To the Residents of 1103 NW 12th St.

I heard a song earlier today, The House that Built Me, and it desperately made me want to visit my childhood home. I thought that the least I could do was ask so I wrote this letter to the current resident of the home I grew up in. I also had this idea that it would be so cool to hear about other people’s experiences that did the same thing. I was fortunate that my childhood home was full of love and attention. Sometimes the attention came in the form of discipline I thought I could have lived without but it was good for me and shaped me into who I am today. If you haven’t visited your childhood home and this entry leads you to ask to do it, please, let me know how it went. i’ll keep you updated if I hear a response. Here is the letter I wrote to the people living in the House that Built Me.

Dear residents of 1103 NW 12th St.,

This may be the most bizarre letter you have ever received at your home. My name is David Barrera. I was born and raised in Andrews, TX. In fact, I was brought home from the hospital to your home and lived there until I left home after my graduation from high school. Like most 17-year-old kids from Andrews, TX, I couldn’t wait to spread my wings and fly and get away from that small town. I literally left Andrews, TX the morning after my high school graduation and moved to Corpus Christi. That was in 1988. I drove away and saw my parents standing in the front yard near the three trees that they had planted for each one of us; my mother in tears and my father with a somber look on his face. I didn’t realize how difficult this was for them until I became a parent. I have three children now.

My parents sold the house in 1991 and moved to Corpus Christi. Shortly after my parents moved to Corpus Christi, I moved to Houston. I remember when my parents got to Corpus Christi, my mother was very depressed. She cried for several days because she missed the home that she had raised me and my two older siblings in. I know the house has changed but I remember my brother and I helping my dad as he built on to the back of the house. As a child, my brother and shared the bedroom at the end and to the left of the hallway. My parents bedroom was right across the hallway, the one with the bathroom in it. My sister’s bedroom was right across from the hallway bathroom, close to the living room. The layout of the house may be very different now, I don’t know. As we got older, my father built a playroom at the back of the house. He had a small study attached to the playroom and there was a small bedroom at the very back of the house with a door that led to the back yard. That little room with the bathroom in it became my brothers room and later, that playroom became my parents master bedroom and my brothers little room became their walk in closet/bathroom. I could go on and on describing the house the way it was back then.

I did not go back to Andrews until July 2010. I still have some friends there that I connected with on Facebook and I went to see them and to see the little town that I had left behind back in 1988. I walked through the neighborhood, stopped and visited Mrs. Clark, next door to your house, and Billie Jones, catty-corner from your house. While I was at Billie Jones’ house, I told her that I would have loved to see the house but I didn’t have the nerve to ask to walk through. I thought it would have been inappropriate.

I’m a therapist in Corpus Christi now. After I left Houston, I moved back to Corpus Christi with my wife and children. Today, I was driving back to Corpus Christi from visiting two families in Laredo. I do assessments of people’s homes that are adopting children. As I was driving a song came on the radio called “The House that Built Me.” I got emotional when I heard this song and I remembered standing in front of your house, taking a picture, and remembering playing in the front yard. I so wanted to knock on the door and ask to see the house but I kept walking. Here is the picture I took.

home1

I was sad to see that the big mulberry tree in the back was gone but I was happy to see that the house was kept up. It looks like a really nice house and I’m thinking that if the walls could talk, they’d say that a happy family was raised in this house and that there are many happy memories stored in those walls. The hallway in your house has heard hours upon hours of children’s laughter when me and my siblings would pile pillows on top of each other and take a running leap to plunge down on each other. For some weird reason, we called this game, “Mr. Bambino”. That hallway also was our entry way to the dining room whenever we came out with our hair messed up or pillows stuffed up our shirts as we surprised our parents and their friends/relatives at the dinner table with whatever comedic acts we had planned. The living room is full of memories of Christmas gifts being opened with surprised faces seeing toys or disappointed faces seeing shirts and socks.

christmas andrews 2

We spent tons of time in the playroom, challenging friends to ping pong and my father used to have his orchestra concerts in the back yard. He was the orchestra teacher for all the schools. My mother spent much of her time in her sewing room that was just behind the den and I remember peaking in on my dad having his bible studies in his office by the playroom. We were a dog family and my dad had two weimeraners when we were growing up. Maggie and Fonzie. We later got two muts; Sylvester and Stallone. Those dogs would get out and we’d be walking up and down the street, yelling, “SYLVESTER!!! STALLONEY!!!”. I’m sure people thought we were crazy at first. We spent a lot of time on your front porch, waiting for the rain to stop so we could continue playing. My sister played jacks on your front porch and I played with hotwheels there and dug up doodle-bugs under the shrubs just to the left of the front door.

It was a wonderful place to grow up. It was a good neighborhood and it looks like it still is. We were constantly outside with all of the neighborhood kids and we played in the neighbors yards as much as played in our own.

martha david snowmen

I have my 25th reunion coming up in xxxx. I would like to ask you a favor. I apologize because I know it may be overstepping some boundaries but I have to ask. It would be So greatly appreciated if I can come and see the house that I grew up in. I’m 43 years old now. I have been shaped by my childhood experiences in your house. I now know what my mother went through back in 1991. My family has so many good memories in your house. A marriage got stronger and three children learned life’s important lessons from parents that loved them in your house. My father is 80 now. My mother is 76. They are still going strong. I completely understand if you don’t feel comfortable allowing a total stranger into your house. My wife and I will be coming to Andrews in xxxx and it would mean a great deal to me if I could spend 5 or 10 minutes walking through your home. It was the House that Built Me….and my brother and sister.

3 kids front of house

Please feel free to ignore this letter if you don’t feel comfortable with this request. If you do feel comfortable, I will be coming into town on xx/xx and will be leaving on xx/xx. My phone number is 361-xxx-xxxx. My email is xxxxxxx@hotmail.com. If you feel comfortable allowing me and my wife into your home for a brief time, it would mean the world to me. Thanks and God Bless.

Morgan’s Purse

I lost my dog Morgan about a month and a half ago. He was a homeless puppy when I first found him at the parking lot of the hospital where I work. He was dirty and afraid and I couldn’t believe that someone had left him to fend for himself. I took him home and he immediately became a part of the family. He woke me up every morning, wanting to play. When I got home from work, he wanted to play. He was awesome. I loved him. He had Parvo and I refused to let him suffer so I took him to the vet and put him to sleep. As I petted him and kissed his head and said my goodbye to him, I thought to myself how I would like to hospitalize him, hook him up to IV fluids, and pay whoever – however much it cost to make sure he came out of this but that just wasn’t reality.

morgan1

morgan

Not too long after Morgan’s passing, I went to see a client in a pretty crappy part of town. I went to the front door and knocked and no one answered. I knocked several more times and decided to wait 10 or 15 minutes. I was there to do a substance abuse assessment and I figured the client needed about 15 minutes to stir from her heroin induced slumber or possibly she had been doing meth for 3 days and was really, really, really sleepy now and had crashed and needed a few more minutes than the average person to put herself together. Either way, I waited. As I waited, I looked down at the end of the street and I noticed a medium sized, black, mangy dog. Normally, I would have not paid much attention to this dog but at that moment, I found myself just watching this dog. I noticed that it must have just had puppies and it was walking around all of the trash bins. When it came to a trash bin that was slightly open, it jumped up and using her nose, she pushed the lid the rest of the way open and started dragging trash out of this bin. She’d pull some trash out and start using her paws and nose to go through the trash and a couple times, she’d lick at a paper plate or a food wrapper. She kept going up and pulling out trash and going through these motions.

The other thing I noticed was that cars were just driving by, much like what I would have done. They weren’t paying attention to this animal and I thought to myself, “If the owner of this house comes out, they’re gonna really be pissed that there’s trash all over the front of their house and who knows what he’ll do to this poor starving dog.” I knew the dog had puppies somewhere and needed nourishment to continue feeding her pups. I found myself upset at this neighborhood. I decided to not wait on the drug addict that I had planned on seeing and drove closer to this dog. The closer I got, the more I could see her ribs. She really was starving and I decided at that moment that I wasn’t going to watch this dog starve and scrounge for something to eat. I drove to the dollar store about 3 blocks away and purchased a bag of dog food. I went back and on one of the paper plates that the dog had been licking on, I poured a massive helping of dog food. I wished at that moment that I had a bowl for water but I didn’t. The dog watched me intently from a distance and as I drove away slowly, I noticed her walking up to the food and then starting to eat. I couldn’t take her home but I felt confident that she would have what she needed for the day.

I now keep a bag of dog food in both of my vehicles and over the last two weeks, I’ve fed 4 hungry dogs. I encourage everyone who reads this to stop at your local dollar store, spend a few bucks and throw some dog food into your trunk. If you’re like me, you can’t take that dog home but when you see a hungry dog, searching for food, you’ll remember that the food is there and you’ll stop and take care of that dog, at that moment. This is Morgan’s legacy.

dog at HEB kostoryz

dog at memorial

Thank you Mrs. Gadkey, Mr. Reyes, and Mr. Gunther.

“I was born on Mexico Street which was an alley. There were some old apartments behind the alley off of Comanche. They were like shotgun sort of things. The inside of the house, I remember it very distinctly, it didn’t even have sheetrock. There were boards on the outside and you could see all the 2 x 4’s. My mother always kept it very clean. I remember that. I can remember putting up sheet dividers for the rooms. I had to be at least 3 or 4 years old. This was before we moved out to Retama. My godmother lived right next door. Her name was Petra. I remember her husband, Juan. His feet stunk horribly all the time! It was powerful. I remember that. I remember that behind that place there was a big patio and there was a two story place and I remember we used to walk up the steps and see who could jump how many steps. There was a lot of neighborhood kids.”

“I went to Oak Park Elementary and that’s where I started the violin class. The lady, the teacher, I remember her coming out to the house and talking to mom and dad about going to college with scholarships and encouraging and this sort of thing. I remember we were sitting out in the front yard. That’s where everybody sat. There were some chairs out there and all the neighbors would congregate there. There were flower beds all around the little bitty narrow lot that we were on. I’m deeply indebted to Mrs. Gadkey, Anita Gadkey. She lived on Eunice drive across from Del Mar. She used to give me private lessons and we couldn’t afford it at all. She kept teaching me. We went to see her at the nursing home . When she met Robert she was coherent and everything else. She said, “When he starts violin, don’t let anybody teach him. Bring him to me.” There she was at the nursing home already.”

“Every year after we went to contest she (Mrs. Gadkey) took us to breakfast at S. Bluff park. She cooked eggs and biscuits and everything. She took everyone. This was different for me because all we had was a taco every once in a while or just plain old beans. Here we were with bacon and everything else. That was a real highlight growing up. She always had cookies when we’d go for private lessons. She’d have cookies in the oven.”

“She gave me a violin. She showed up with a Jusek, a Czeckoslovakian violin. We never paid her one penny for that or the lessons. I had that instrument until I was able to afford one, when I was in the Navy. She was very good to me.”

“I started playing in the symphony in Corpus when I was a junior in high school. I graduated from high school the very first year it was Miller High School. I went to Del Mar and then went to U.T. in Austin on a full scholarship. Because of Angel Reyes, the Cuban violinist. He took me under his wing and gave me a full violin scholarship. I was working at the drop off and pick up laundry and they payed me .50 cents an hour and I worked for 3 or 4 hours every afternoon, which was not enough to eat on. The dormitory where I was at was the old Army barracks right across the street from the stadium and I never went to one football game. I couldn’t afford it. I paid $45 a semester for the dormitory. Tuition was $45 dollars. I went to the loan office and got enough money to pay for the dormitory. I got into the Austin symphony and they paid me $25 a concert and that’s how I paid off the loans.”

“There were several instrumental people in my path that helped me get to where I am now. If it hadn’t been for those people, it never would have happened. For example, the violin teacher, Mrs. Gadkey, then when I got to U.T., Angel Reyes. I would have had to quit because I didn’t have any money. I would go two or three days without eating and your grandmother would give me $5 every now and then and I was determined to make it through. Then there was a Lieutenant Commander, Bill Gunther, in the Navy. He liked to play chamber music and when I was in the Navy in California, he actually came after me to take me to his house to meet his family and on the way out there, he said, “we’ve already got your orders for you.” Everyone else in my company, guys with PhD’s and Master’s degree were put on ships out to sea. When Bill came out there, he told me, “you’re going to be flown to New York City and you’re going to be the violinist for the Admiral, the Navy representative at the U.N.” They would send a car out for us to play for his wife’s tea parties. There was a mansion way up on a hill and it would be snowing, covered white. He had a green house and it was gorgeous. We’d be off in the corner with a grand piano playing.”

Today is my father’s 80th birthday. Two days ago, we had dinner at my sister’s home. My sister has a very nice home here in Corpus Christi. We all have nice homes. Me, my brother in Denton, and my sister. My brother just finished building a new home. It’s beautiful as well. He and his wife are teachers. My sister and her husband are nurses. My sister is a nurse practitioner with her own clinic. I have a PhD and I make a decent living as well. My brother came into town with his wife and two beautiful girls and there we were at my sisters house with her and her husband and Emma, a future actress and tennis pro. My wife and kids were there. We are in the process of remodeling our kitchen. My oldest daughter is going to graduate this coming year and wants to be a pharmacist. My middle daughter talks about being a veterinarian and my youngest…he’s just a smart kid who’s not sure what he wants to do yet. He’s only in middle school. I’m sure when the time comes, he’ll figure it all out. Back to dinner.

Jeff, a good friend of my sisters, brought steaks for dinner from his family’s meat processing company and Robby, my brother-in-law’s son, cooked those filet’s up perfectly. We sat around and visited and laughed and then it came time for our meal. My father prayed before dinner and when he said these words, I got rather emotional and tears formed in my eyes. “Father in Heaven, thank you for giving me another year to be with my family.” The words are very poignant when your father turns 80. He’s as healthy as can be and if you look at him, he doesn’t look 80. I don’t see him as 80. I see him as being just as strong and healthy as I remember him when I was a child.

I looked around my sister’s home and considered how good we have it. I thought of the life my father and mother created for us through all their hard work. I thought to myself that we have never had to want for anything and how our children will have it much better than we did because of the struggles that my parents went through and the sacrifices they made. For my father’s birthday…I’m thankful. Thankful to my father for his hard work. I am thankful to my mother as well. I’m thankful for the instrumental people in my father’s life. I only named a few of them in the title but there are 100 more I’m sure. I’m thankful to Mrs. Gadkey for that free violin she gave to my father when he was a child. I’m thankful for Angel Reyes for taking the time to see the talent my father nurtured. I’m thankful to Mr. Gunther for whatever steps he took to arrange for my father to go to New York to play for the Admiral. I’m thankful to my grandmother for the $5 dollars she could send to my dad when she could scrape it together and I imagine his level of discouragement, and even hunger, when he got that $5 in the mail and it kept him plugging along.

I can’t begin to say how thankful I am to my father on his 80th birthday. I hope you have many, many, many more birthdays. But more than anything, I hope that when I’m gone someday, I will have had as much of an impact on as many people as you have had and my children will look around and be thankful for your hard work because you were the turning point for the blessings, the education, and the comforts that we all experience on a daily basis. I don’t take it for granted.

He Walks with Me and He Talks with Me…

I’m typically a very cynical person.  I’ve seen the worst of people in almost every situation but during those times that I’m feeling exceedingly cynical and pessimistic, God taps me on the shoulder and shows me a person that is utterly amazing.  Today I had one of these experiences.  I was visiting with a family who is being considered as a placement for some relative children.  I walked into a clean and orderly…and very modest home.  As I’m getting my computer out of it’s case and sitting down on what is clearly furniture that has been passed down at least one generation, I heard a radio playing in the back room.  I looked to the woman sitting on a chair in front of me and was about to ask if there was someone else in the home and she told me her grandmother was staying with them.  She had been staying with another family member in Central Texas somewhere but as a family they were taking turns having her in their homes so now it was her turn and the grandmother was going to be with them for the next six months.

I started interviewing the couple and the radio continued in the back room.  I asked the woman how old her grandmother was and I let her know that since she was living in the home I was going to have to interview her.  She said that wouldn’t be a problem but I would probably have trouble understanding her because she had suffered a stroke several years back and her speech was mumbled.  I told her, “not a problem, I’ll just say hello to her and ask her simple yes and no questions that she can shake her head to.” A few minutes later I heard a familiar tune come on the radio.  This was one of those Oldies/Christian stations that plays instrumental music most of the time.  The tune sounded very familiar and like a wave it hit me.  I remembered the tune.  It was a hymn that I hadn’t heard in years, “In the Garden.”  Several years ago I heard a remake of this song by a country and western artist but it wasn’t this version that I remembered.  It was the version that I heard as a child sitting in the pew at church.

I continued with my interview and a few seconds later I heard what initially sounded like this soft mumbling sound of this old woman singing along with this old hymn.   Within seconds that soft mumbling noise that this woman was making mixed with my memories and it sounded like an angel singing the words from that song as crisply and clearly as I remember my mother’s voice on Sunday morning.  I remembered every word and as I typed the responses that were being given to me, I faded in and out of paying attention to the couple in front of me to the beautiful singing of this 93 year old woman in the back room.  Here’s the words to the song:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

As the angel in the back room got halfway through the first verse, I told the couple that I needed to stop.  I told them that this was a song I grew up with and the sound of their grandmother singing was distracting…but in a good way.  I asked to meet her and we walked down the hallway.  Her soft singing became a little louder as we walked up to the halfway closed door just at the moment that she came to the chorus, “And He walks with me and He talks with me.”  The woman pushed the door open and said, “Grandmother, there’s a man here to meet you.”  This 93 year old angel was sitting in her wheelchair and caught a little off guard she smiled in embarrassment.

I told her, “Don’t be embarrassed, that’s the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard and I’ve never heard it sung more beautifully than I did just now.” She beamed a huge smile with the left side of her face as she said, “thank you.”  What would have been an otherwise mumbled voice, I heard perfectly.  The woman told her grandmother, “Grandmother, he’s got a few questions to ask you” and she nodded her head in agreement.  I told her, “I don’t have any questions, I’m going to finish my interview with your granddaughter and you can continue singing.”  She lifted her left arm up letting me know that she wanted to give me a hug and as I bent over to allow her to hug me, she said, “God bless you and the work you do.”  To me, at that moment, those words came out as clear as day.  My eyes welled up a little and I told her, “It was such a pleasure meeting you.”

I don’t know anything about this woman’s past.  I don’t know where she’s been or anything about her life but I could tell that she had a heart of gold beating underneath that elderly shell.  Her granddaughter told me that she had been nothing but a pleasure since she’d been in the home and they didn’t expect that they would want to see her go but the other family members wanted to have their time with her.  This wasn’t a woman that was being passed around between family members because she was a burden but she was a ray of sunshine that everyone in the family wanted to experience.  The 93 year old woman in a wheelchair mumbling while she sings, “And He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me that I am His own.”

 

To a Father who will soon be missing his Son…

It’s 1:20 in the morning.  Tomorrow I go back to my old schedule.  I’ve been working nights for the past several months and it has taken a toll on me.  I worked nights for years as a cop and again for years in the same psychiatric unit where I am now.  I’m not 22 years old anymore and my body clock is screaming at me telling me to stop abusing it.  So, after being awake all night last night, sleeping until 2pm, waking up, seeing 4 clients in the afternoon, eating dinner with the wife and another couple, everyone in my house is asleep and I sit here, deep in introspection, needing to pass 30 or 40 minutes of time that I know it will take to convince my brain that it needs to start slowing down.

An interesting thing happened tonight while we were at dinner.  Everyone sat at their tables, conversing with family and friends.  Waiters and restaurant staff went back and forth dealing with the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant and in the middle of it all, a loud chime went out.  It was a man at a table directly behind where we were sitting.  He was tapping his glass with his knife.

“Can I have everyone’s attention?  Hello….Can I have everyone’s attention!  I want to make a toast!”

I thought this guy was drunk, maybe he was?  Regardless, the words he said stopped everyone cold.

“I want to make a toast……to my son.  He leaves for Iraq this weekend.”  He looks down at his son and says, “I love you son and I’m proud of you.”

A lump formed in my throat and my eyes welled up with tears.  I looked at my wife and her eyes were watering.  I wanted to get up and go over to this father and son, hug them both and tell them “Thank You.”  Thank you to the son for serving his country and Thank you to the father for sharing that moment with us. We drift off at times, living in our own worlds, dealing with the problems of our own lives while Fathers and Mothers are telling their children good-bye like this on a regular basis.  It  helps to put things in perspective.  My heart is heavy for this father right now and although I don’t know him, I’ll pray for his son and his safe return.

My Son

My son just woke up and in a daze, walked into my office.  “Is everything ok son?”

“yeah” (in a slow voice with his eyes halfway shut)

“go back to sleep son and i’ll come in and give you a kiss before I go to sleep.”

“I love you dad” (as he turns and walks back to his bedroom)

“I love you too son.”

Several years ago my son and I got into the habit of writing letters to one another.  Of course, because I live on the computer, most of my notes were typed.  He would write me stories and ask me what I thought.  This is my encouragement to fathers…build those moments because eventually…they will be gone and we’ll have the memories. I wanted to share one of his stories and one of my letters to him.

I’ll finish this entry with a toast to my father.  I think you did a great job Dad.  My son is a caring little boy with a good heart.  I followed your lead and I try to do everything for him that you did with me.   I’m proud to be your son.

My Dad

Andrews, TX – You Can Always Come Home

I got in last night from a trip to my hometown of Andrews, TX.  I hadn’t been there in about 20 years.  I was able to visit with some old friends and friends of the family and it was a great time.  As I expected, it was an emotional trip too.  Last Friday I walked around my old neighborhood.  No one was outside, it was a quiet neighborhood…just like I remember when I was growing up.  I walked down 12th street, past Jaime Swift’s old house on my left and remembered playing in his backyard, digging ditches with his mother’s good spoons, I’m sure she always appreciated wondering where her silverware was and his dad surely enjoyed finding all their stemware in the back yard every time he mowed the grass.

I walked past the Jones house on the right at the end of the 1000 block and remembered the giant cave they dug in their back yard and the time Lance Jones pushed my sister Martha off the trampoline, smack into one of the big mulberry trees they still have.  I cross the street onto my old block to the Moore house on the corner just across the street from the Jones’.  The pigeon cage they used to have in the back yard was gone.  From what I heard, Dr. Moore, the town veterinarian, has passed away.  He helped us get a blow dart out of our dog Sylvester’s head once.  Some mean kid experienced some bad Karma over that I’m sure.  Mrs. Clark’s house is on the corner on the left.  The front yard is surrounded by 2 foot high cinder block fence.  They used to grow little green onions on the side of the house and we used to cook them over fires that we’d start in the alley.  One time, me and Erik Wilson almost burned down the whole alley way and if Mr. Clark hadn’t jumped his fence with the water hose, I’m sure we’d have burned down the whole block of back yard fences.  Mr. Clark’s gone now too.  From what I heard, he passed away one day after mowing the grass.  He sat down on his recliner, fell asleep, and never woke up.

Then came my house.  It was a sad moment.  There used to be three trees out in front of the house that my dad planted for each one of us.  It was a red brick house with a big planter out front.  If you looked at the front of the house you could see the giant mulberry tree in the back yard.  There was a big tree house in that tree and underneath it was a sign that my mom had brought home from the dentist office where she used to work “The Bad Breath Club.”  All that’s gone now.  Whoever lives there painted the red brick and tore the planter down.  I didn’t look into the back yard.  It would have been too upsetting.  It wasn’t run down, it just wasn’t the house I grew up in.

I crossed the street and continued walking down the block that I remembered as such a big place.  The block was five houses long and everything was so small.   As I walked up the block, a little girl on a scooter pulled up behind me.  “Am I in your way?” I asked her and she pointed to the old Gregory house and said, “That’s my house.”  Bud Gregory and his wife died in that house and the Guzman’s moved in when I was in 5th grade.  No matter who you were, you were always welcome in the Guzman home.  I wanted to take a picture of the house but didn’t feel comfortable with two kids and a family being out in front of it.  I circled the block, walked by the Wilson’s old house.  Next door to them was Mr. Criswell’s house.  I looked up the street and the emotion flowed over me again as I saw Jack Horner Kindergarten on the left.  I remembered the time me and my sister, Martha, planned on spending the night on the covered patio to teach my mother a lesson for making us walk home 8 blocks after fighting with each other in the car.  We had our plan laid out when our big brother, Robert, pulled up on his little blue bicycle and said, “Mom knows ya’ll are here and she says, Come Home!”  Our plan had been foiled.   I sat on the same little bench that I had been on 35 years ago and thought of how good life had been for the kids in that neighborhood.  I remember sitting in a circle with a dozen other 5 year olds and reading Dick and Jane readers.  The building is used for storage now.  How good I had it and I didn’t have a clue how fortunate I was to grow up in a neighborhood where there were no worries and no concerns.

We played tackle football around the fastest merry-go-round in the world.  The field we played on behind the Jack Horner was huge at one time.  Now it looked as small as my back yard.  I picked up a few pine cones for my daughter to put together in her own little artistic way for the desk in my office.

I walked around the Fetner’s old house and kept walking down 11th street and walked under a Mulberry tree, grabbing a leaf as I walked under.  I took a picture and sent it to my sister with the message, “Remember when we used to put these under paper and color them?” She sent me a message back telling me how she got emotional when I sent her that message and it’s funny how what seems to be the most insignificant thing can bring on a flood of memories.

I drove by James Coffman’s old house and remembered the time he had a big birthday party and as we played cops and robbers, I got clotheslined across the mouth (literally by a clothesline).  I fell backward on top of a water spigot and I still have the dent in my back.

Later in the day I went to the Commercial State Bank with John Kraft.  I looked across the street and noticed what used to be the La Hacienda Mexican restaurant that my parents opened.  La Hacienda is a booming restaurant now.  Back then, it was a place for me to play in the back underneath the big tree using the roots as bridges for my hot wheels.

Afterwards, we drove around town for a bit.  I had to drive by my Aunt Rose’s old house.  It looks completely different too.  Me and my sister spent countless hours laying around on her floor, going through her records and listening to Barry Manilow, The Pointer Sisters, Captain and Tenille, Doobie Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, and many more.  Many of these records I have found over the years and now my children laugh when I tell them we used to listen to this music all the time.

We met Gilbert Peters in front of the Middle School.  Our friendships started when we were small and they just got stronger as the years passed.  When we got to Middle School and our personalities took shape, we didn’t grow apart as some kids do, we just got closer. From what I hear, this part of the middle school is used for storage too.  My dad’s orchestra class took place in this building.  Mr. Rose’s art class was the most fun I ever had in middle school and there’s still a wood sculpture of a tennis player that I did hanging in my son’s bedroom.

We met up with Patty Guzman, Gilbert, and two of his workers at Buddy’s Drive Inn.  We ran into Johnny Delgado there.  We ate the famous Buddy’s steakfingers and they tasted just like I remembered.  We talked and laughed and started our weekend of sitting around together and telling old stories. You can see on the sign that this place has been around since 1969…..that’s right around the time me and my friends were born so this place was part of our worlds for as long as we can remember.

Everyone went their separate ways until later in the evening when we would get together again at Gilbert’s house.  It was funny because Gilbert asked, “What are ya’ll doin’ tonight?”  and I said, “Coming to your house for dinner.”  It was me, Gilbert, John, Brian Jeffcoats, Patty Guzman, and Mark Bairrington joined us.  He brought his two kids and we sat around again for hours joking and laughing.  It was 2am before we decided to end the conversation and turn in for the night. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the desire to stay out that late.  The next day, we met up at Cassidy’s sub shop.  This place wasn’t around when I was growing up in Andrews.  I visited with Stephanie Tonroy on the front porch and Steve Smith and his family walked up. Steve got upset that Brian didn’t call him the night before but he quickly forgave him and we picked up where we left off the night before…poking fun at folks, remembering things and trying to forget some of the things we did.  Thanks for reminding us of all those things Gilbert 🙂  Stephanie made the astute observation that when we were all in middle school we walked around the lockers like a bunch of psychiatric patients and again we laughed until our bellies ached.  After lunch, Stephanie took off and us guys piled into one car and drove around town talked about all the things we remembered that happened in different parts of town.  Everyone had a little story for every other block that we drove by.  I laughed so hard a couple times that I got light headed.  We went to the high school and walked around, took a picture together in the Dome and the laughs continued.  This was the dome where we spent a majority of our time between classes.  It was the social meeting ground and everyone milled around up until the very last second before the bell rang.  I took pictures of the new sports facility and thought to myself, “these kids have no idea how good they have it.”

We parted ways again with the plan of getting together again at Victor Guzman’s mother’s house.  I went back to my hotel room, showered, and ran by the Tucker’s house.  Mrs. Tucker opened the front door and looked at me, not knowing who I was.  I said, “Mrs. Tucker…I’m David Barrera.”  Her eyes widened, her hands went up and she said, “David Barrera! Get over here and let me hug your neck!”  She hugged me and said, “Get in this house!”  We sat down on the bar in their kitchen and caught up.  Mr. Tucker went to his room and came out with a metal sculpture that my dad made for him years ago.  “You have to tell your Daddy that I still have this.” I think I heard them say “We just love your family” or “We just love your parents to death” about a dozen times while I sat in that kitchen.  They got upset with me for staying at a hotel and invited me and my family to come back and stay with them.  I hugged them both and it felt like hugs from another set of parents.

Victor was flying in from Tennessee and Patty and his mother had been cooking all day in preparation for everyone coming over.  As usual, we sat around, told stories, and joked and laughed.  It was great to see Patrick, Victor, and Patty again after all these years.  Mrs. Guzman is still one of the sweetest ladies I know.  Mr. Guzman already passed away and I missed him….I can only imagine how much his family misses him.  I sat with Victor and he told me, “You have no idea how hard I looked for you in Houston one time.” It meant a lot to me knowing that an old friend went to a city of three and a half million people and looked for me.

We drove a few blocks to a block party close to the middle school and walked around.  The city was having a celebration and we walked around, gave the kids time to run around and we visited some more.  Everyone decided to take off for the night and we said our goodbyes to Victor, Patty, and Patrick. We made sure we had each other’s phone numbers and we promised to stay in touch. Patrick and Patty hugged me at the same time and it was just like I was talking to my own brother and sister when I said, “I love you guys.”

The next day I slept late and met Gilbert and John for lunch at La Hacienda.  It’s grown over the years but the quality of the food is nothing compared to when Jess and Halya Barrera (my wonderful parents) ran the place.  We spent another hour and a half of joking and laughing and we knew our time was short.  I was going to meet up with Troy Yarbrough after lunch, run around town and visit some folks and then head back to Corpus Christi.  It was a weekend filled with hugs and folks telling each other “I love you” and “I’ve missed you.” My parting with John and Gilbert was no different.  Gilbert said, “I never really knew how much I missed people until this weekend.”

I drove out to Troy’s shop and Stephanie Tonroy came out and visited with us for a little bit.  Troy’s wife Kim showed up and when I wanted to take pictures they both refused because neither had make-up on.  Stephanie took off and me, Troy and his son, Taylor headed out to see folks.  We started off at the Gilliam’s house.  We pulled up and Mr. Gilliam walked out the front door.  “Hey Troy….who you got with ya?”  I said, “Hello Mr. Gilliam, I’m David Barrera.” Again…just like at the Tucker’s house, his arms went up around my neck and he hugged me and said, “Get inside this house.” Mrs. Gilliam walked out of the back room and I walked over to her and she looked at me not quite knowing who I was.  I said, “I’m David Barrera.” She hugged me and said, “Oh My Goodness.” We sat in the living room and visited for about 40 minutes.  Mr. Gilliam said, “I’ve missed you kids.  There’s never been a group like you and there’ll never be a group like you in the future.”  We all played tennis together and just like most parents at sporting events, the Gilliams were a permanent fixture at the tennis tournaments.  Mr. Gilliam would stand behind the windscreens and cheer you on whether you were his kid or not. Shanna Gilliam and my sister were State champions and I’d like to say what drove them was not only their hard work but the people cheering them on behind the wind screens, folks like Mr. and Mrs. Gilliam.

From there we went to Mrs. Clark’s house.  I’d already walked by there two days earlier and now I was knocking on the front door.  Mrs. Clark opened the front door and said, “Can I help you?” “Mrs. Clark, I’m David Barrera.” Same response, a hug and an invite into the front living room.  Mrs. Clark took care of me when I was in kindergarten.  Her and my mother were back and forth comparing crafts and I still remember the macrame baskets hanging around her house.  Mrs. Clark said, “your mom told me that you liked coming over here because I would let you crumble crackers in your soup.”

We crossed the street and we went to the Jones’ house.  Billie Jones answered the door and invited me and Troy in without knowing who we were.  There’s things that people do in a small town that you would never imagine doing in a big city.  Even then, it’s dangerous.  I introduced myself again and Mrs. Jones said, “I was inviting you in and I had no idea who you were” as she gave me a big hug.  We visited and talked about all the good times all of us kids had running around the neighborhood.  She talked about the big cave her boys dug in the back yard and I reminded her about the warped tree house we all put together and about the concrete bike ramp we built behind her house.  As I was leaving, she told me to tell my parents that she’s at the same address and she wants to send them a Christmas card.  She was showing me her fish pond as her two grandsons (Lance’s boys) climbed out the window into the back yard.

We went back to Troy’s and he showed me his work of art kitchen and then I drove him and his boy back to his shop.  I got out of the car and gave him a hug and we talked about a future vacation together and the possibility of him and his family coming to visit us in Corpus Christi.  As I drove toward Odessa, I looked and saw Andrews in my rear view mirror.  I couldn’t wait to get out of that little town when I was 18 and after 22 years of being gone part of me wanted to stay.  I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see but I’m sure i’ll be back.  The people are special in that little town.  The friends I made there as a child will be my friends forever.  We’re doctors, lawyers, supervisors, electricians, soldiers, business owners, nurses, police officers, and school teachers.  We’ve been to war. We’ve crossed oceans and continents.  We’ve lost close friends and family members.  We’ve made a good living and lost everything…just to climb back up and do it all again.

We’ve survived cancer and illness and some have lost those battles.  As police officers and soldiers we’ve taken lives and we’ve saved lives and we’ve survived the trauma that comes with the realities of life.  We’ve raised family’s and some of us even have grandchildren already but when we come back to Andrews, Texas we walk through the neighborhoods where we grew up and we go back in time to a place where we had the best childhood anyone could have asked for.  We sit down across the table from each other and as my good friend John Kraft said, “we pick up our conversations like we just saw each other yesterday.”   We look different, some more than others but (from the words of Gilbert Peters), “They can look in your eyes and you’re the same person everyone remembers.”