5 Tips for Visiting Your Republican Mother

What's that saying about picking your friends, not your family? Essentially this just means you're stuck with the people with whom you share bloodlines. And that can make for some awkward moments.

Because common bloodlines don't necessarily mean common values, shared interests, or, especially, a similar political outlook.

I still remember the time my biological mother told me "I'd never have let you vote Democrat." As if she had a choice.


And if she had raised me, who's to say I wouldn't have still turned out to be a liberal "silver flower" (her name for hippies or at least that one well-to-do hippie we ran into in downtown Wichita Falls on my last visit. She was dressed in a maxi skirt and wearing no make-up--the horror. I can only imagine that my mother glanced at my still-dyed hair and sighed in relief, thinking, there but for the grace of God and Nice N Easy Root Touch Up go I.

Anyway, point is that sometimes--unless there are devastating reasons to decide otherwise--you should probably sometimes go home again. And it doesn't have to be too painful if you just adopt a few methods of self-preservation.

1) Focus on what you have in common: On the surface I don't think my mother and I share much. Certainly not looks--at least not obviously so. But we have the same eyes and we definitely share a love for clothing, shoes and bags even if our tastes in such are very, very different. Cory thinks we share the same sense of vanity although I'm not apt to reapply my lipstick nearly a dozen times a day (I'm, sadly perhaps, more of a one-and-done kind of gal). She also loves bright colors and flashy jewelry in the same way I wear a lot of black. I'm pretty sure in fact that she finds my fashion choices appalling. Still it's there--those common threads. We both also love black coffee, chocolate and cats. I don't know if that's genetics but it at least is a starting point for conversation.

2) Share the past: I can count on one hand the number of times I've come out to visit my mother since we first met in 1996. There are still many pieces to the family history puzzle that I'm still coaxing from her. It hasn't been easy but at least it's something to talk about. Where she grew up, what her parents were like, what her sister is like. Little bits of history, spilled drop by drop.

3) Don't sweat the stupid, small stuff. Really. So she thinks being vegetarian means finding you a place to eat that offers a vegetable-heavy side dish menu. Just eat the steamed broccoli and baby carrots, smile and say it's wonderful

4) Go ahead and talk politics--that is if you've got the will power to bite your tongue when your mother tells how handsome and charming Rick Perry is and what a good job she thinks Greg Abbott will do as governor and goodness, didn't he just kick that little Wendy Davis' behind? Ask politely about the congressman with whom they had breakfast on Election Day. It's OK, you can handle one conversation like this and, amazingly, she never even brings up Obama once. Progress!

5) Alcohol, obviously.

Welcome to Whisky-ta-Falls

I was born in Wichita Falls but, I'll admit, I've never spent much time here. My father moved me overseas when I was barely two and after that I only came back a few times to visit his grandmother (Grandma Zack, mean as can be) and other scattered relatives.

When I was a teenager he'd drag me up here now and again for a family reunion--something I hated fiercely. It was always hot and the place seemed old and shabby. I didn't connect much with it at all except for the moments (always) when I'd wonder if I'd run into my mother.

If she lived here still. I tried to imagine what she was doing, where she lived, if she'd recognize me if she saw me on the street. I didn't know then of course that she was nowhere near Wichita Falls at the time--in fact she was about as far away as you could get, living in Korea with her third husband. There was no way of knowing then--because almost no one on my dad's side of the family would talk about her and when they did it was in a mostly hushed and disapproving way--but the person I imagined my mother to be was the complete opposite of the person she turned out to be.


As an adult, I've been back several times and over the years my feelings about the place have shifted. Turns out Wichita Falls is a lot bigger than I remember it. My dad's grandmother lived in a poorer section of town. I remember a creaky old bungalow with a chain link fence and a reunion dinner held at an old barbecue place housed in a trailer. I remember the air force base and a mostly deserted downtown.

The Wichita Falls I see today is still pretty run down in places. But there are also really nice neighborhoods with lovely brick Tudor homes and sprawling mansions. My mother and stepdad (husband number three) live in this neighborhood--on the very street that my parents lived on when I was a baby. My parents lived in an apartment building and now my mother's house is across the corner. It's more than a little strange to think about the long journey she took between here and there.

On this trip, as with everyone I've made since my mother and I finally met nearly 20 years ago, they gave us what they call the "nickel tour," showing off Midwestern State University (where my mother went to college for a few years), the (still mostly deserted) downtown and all the built up "oil homes," including one that used to belong to the family that founded Mobile Oil.

Apparently there used to be a lot of money in this town.

"Wichita Falls used to be the richest city per capita," my stepdad told us.

It also was, apparently, quite the place for crime.

Bonnie & Clyde spent a lot of time here--in fact Bonnie Parker once worked in a cafe here and, according to an exhibit at the Museum of North Texas History, moved here to be with Clyde Barrow after he got out of jail (lying to her mother in Dallas that she was just coming here for a job).

Jesse and Frank James also spent quite a bit of time here. As did Charles Ponzi. Yeah, the Ponzi scheme guy.

My favorite bit of Wichita Falls history so far, however, is its reputation as something of a liquor town--in fact, they called it Whisky-ta-Falls.

With 21 saloons and liquor traffic so heavy they changed the train schedules to accomodate those who came into town to buy some booze, this obviously would have been my kind of place back in the day.

Sometime to return ...

Normally I'm a good traveler, really. I love flying. I love going from Point A to Point B.

Not today, though. Not as much anyway.

The morning started out rough.  Three hours sleep was probably the biggest culprit, which means that, essentially, I'm to blame because I'm the one who was still up at midnight--just four hours before the alarm was set to buzz--still sipping on whiskey and anxieties.

I have a hard enough time making myself go to bed on the best of nights, factor in worry and excitement and putting head to pillow seems nearly impossible.

But I got there eventually and then the iPhone alarm did its shrill vibrato thing and I was awake, bleary-eyed and trying to stuff the last of my belongings into a duffel bag

We made that first flight OK, although not without some bickering. I wish I could just set a blanket pre-apology to Cory for the whole damn trip: I'm sorry, I'm stressed. I'm worried, I know I'm taking it out on you." Instead my hackles go up and it's like my mind suits up in camouflage ready to storm bunkers and jungles and innocent villages.

And so we boarded that flight tense and mostly silent. The girl next to me fiddled with her music player, at full volume, before finally settling on some particularly loud selection and, thankfully, switching to headphones. After what felt like an endless trip down the runway--with the plane's wheels making something of a god-awful racket and me muttering silent prayers--the plane finally took flight and I fell asleep clutching a half-filled coffee cup. It's something of a wonder that I slept (and didn't spill my coffee, although I awoke once as the cup tilted, its lid pointed perilously toward my lap).

I don't normally sleep that much on planes. I love flying--staring out the window, taking the time to read or write. I'm normally such a good traveler and even in the most boxed-in, tightest fits of situations I hold sort of a reverence for this contained set of time, this reprieve from everything. The best part is ordering a Bloody Mary, no matter the time of day. There's something about that tiny bottle of vodka and the way the flight attendant leaves you the entire can of tomato juice.

Not today, though. Mostly I slept, fitfully, trying to reclaim some lost hours of sleep.

The plane landed in Salt Lake City. Things were still tense and mostly silent. A trip to the restroom where I tried not to feel too horrified at the sight of the bags beneath my eyes--accentuated in 3D relief by the bathroom's unforgiving fluorescent lighting.

Outside the bathroom, a few more tense words and then Cory cut me off--and thankfully so--to inform me we were late for boarding our flight.

"No, we're not," I said, waving my phone at him. "We have an hour."

"No, we don't," he said. "It's 9:28."

I looked down at my phone dumbly; it said 8:28. I'd switched it off airplane mode yet it was still stuck on Sacramento time.

We took off, nearly running, making our way from Terminal D to Terminal B as an overhead voice advised "final boarding call" for our flight.

We made that flight with only a moment to spare.  "Final boarding call," the voice said again, this time much sterner. "The gates will be closing."

Lungs bursting, we stumbled to the gate.

"Cory and Rachel?" the gate attendant asked smoothly, taking our bags and insisting that we check them. The last I remember is Cory putting pink tags on the bags, which we left with the attendant.

In our seats, I nearly broke down crying.

"You're shaking," Cory said.

Blame it on the 5-K dash, blame it on the stress. Blame it on the hunger growling through my stomach.

Just when I thought I'd calmed down enough to deal, Cory wondered about those bags. We'd left them at the gate. Did they actually make it to the plane? In the rush, we hadn't thought to ask if we needed to carry them to the plane ourselves.

There'd be no way of knowing if our baggage traveled with us until we landed. Literally, that is. Metaphorically speaking, all our baggage was present and accounted for.

Bloody Mary's ordered, we bumped and lurched as the plane navigated its way through a rough storm patch above Texas. Every now and again the plane tilted suddenly side to side and I'd feel my stomach tumble with it.  "The pilot has advised us," the flight attendant chirped happily over the intercom, "that the ride will be like this much of the duration."

In Austin, we were, thankfully, reunited with our bags only to find fiasco at the rental car counter where I was informed that the car I'd rented was actually in Ontario. You know, Southern California. Seems there was some sort of mix-up (I mean, obviously) that confused details with another rental I'd made on the same day--this one for a trip to Joshua Tree next week.

I'm not even sure how that could happen--because there was also, still, another reservation for that weekend. A computer glitch, but they could still help us.

With a mini-van.

Which I declined on principle.

Or a Mini Cooper.

Which Cory declined on practicality.

Finally, we drove away in a Dodge Charger. It was pouring outside. Torrents of rain, actually, with a five-hour drive to Wichita Falls ahead.

And I'm not going to say it was the easiest drive but there was big sky and water towers and rural junctions and tiny towns that came and went in just one roadside exit. And as the miles drifted by and I eventually drifted off into a nap, all of the day’s troubles finally drifted away.