Friday, March 28, 2014

Confessions of a Crazy Canuck

Me in Mazatlan, age five.
  I love the idea of Texas the way Karl May loved the idea of the wild west. It is only loosely based on reality and owes a great deal to pop culture including John Wayne movies, Louis L'Amour stories and the amazing pitching speed of Nolan Ryan. It started long before my love of history took hold.

It started in Mexico.

My sister and I had whooping cough. I was five; Joanne was two. She was the reason we had to seek out a warm, dry climate for Christmas instead of visiting family in Montreal. Since my parents weren’t exactly flush with funds, they packed up my father’s company station wagon and we drove south, headed for Mazatlan.

With the self-centred clarity of a child, I only remember the parts of the trip that had an impact on me. I remember the switchback roads in the mountains. Dad loved them. Mum and Joanne were throwing up. Me - who was car sick on a straight road - was morbidly fascinated by the sheer drops out the side window.

I remember eating peeled shrimp like candy... and my first real pineapple.

When we finally reached the beach, I stepped on a crab and was scared of the sand for years after. (That's me, scared, photographed with my father.) I don't remember the crab, but I do remember being scared.

For some reason, I also remembered Laredo. I don’t remember much about the town except the name. It etched itself on my consciousness; the sound of the word was as exotic and exciting to me as Paris or Istanbul might be to someone else.

Traveling to Mexico became a family habit for a while - especially after we acquired a camper. It was in the camper that I started reading Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. I had run out of Georgette Heyer and had not yet developed an interest in the mysteries my mother brought along for the trip. Dad gave me a copy of Riders of the Purple Sage, followed a couple of L’Amour’s short story collections. Suddenly I started taking an interest in the country we were traveling through. The United States - particularly Texas - ceased to be a geographic obstacle between home and our destination.

"Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen." - Louis L'Amour
When I needed to research Texas history and geography for Under A Texas Star, memories of those trips floated up to the surface.

One other trip cinched the deal – but it wasn’t one I took. My parents decided to go to Mexico when my mother retired. The family camper was long gone. Instead they outfitted a van with a kitchenette, bed and porta-potty. Feeling a bit envious, I wished them bon voyage one chill November morning. A couple of days later, they called from the Mexican border.

They had forgotten the vehicle permit. They couldn’t get into Mexico.

Stifling a laugh that I would have paid dearly for, I suggested they visit Texas while they were there – and bring back guide books. I was setting my mystery in the old west.

And now the confession. Since I'm hip-deep in book edits, I stole most of this post from an early self. As I keep telling my kids: "Recycle. Reuse. Re-purpose."

My brave baby sister wasn't scared of sand.
My sister wasn't afraid of the sand.


Caroline Clemmons said...

Alison, lovely post. We used to go to Juarez when visiting El Paso, but it isn't safe to do so now. Going from Canada to Mazatlan was quite a trip. Glad it fueled your interest in Texas.

Ginger Jones Simpson said...

What a great post. I love when we get to glimpse into each other's lives and make our friendship that much stronger. Love the pictures. Thanks, Alison. Wonderful insight into what turned you into a western enthusiast...and such a good one, at that. :)

Alison E. Bruce said...

Thank you Caroline and Ginger. I'm going to look for a picture of our incredibly ugly but wonderful camper and post it on FB for you. We drove that monster to Mexico four times. It took us across western Canada and up the Alaska highway. It went through eastern Canada and New England a couple of times. It saw a lot of miles before it retired.

Kathleen Rice Adams said...

Texas is known to have a lingering, positive effect on folks -- even crazy Canucks. ;-)

Great post, Ali. Wish I could return the favor by reminiscing about a trip to Canada ... but the only Canadian city I've visited is Montreal, and you seriously do not want to hear my thoughts about THAT. :-D

Stay crazy, Canuck! :-)

Rosemary Morris said...


Thank you for this fascinating blog,

Rosemary Morris