As a kid, I was lucky enough to have grandparents who lived on a farm in South Texas. My grandparents moved there after retirement, and built a modest farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. The closest town was Riviera (pronounced Riv-era), which has a current population of 1,000. The land is sandy, flat and covered with sap-soaked mesquite trees and prickly pear cactus. Droughts and hurricanes are common in the summer, fall and winter are just a tad chilly, and spring eruptions of wildflowers are dazzling. Two-foot-deep but many-miles-wide Baffin Bay was down the road from their house.
On the weekends, my parents and I would visit from Corpus Christi, and I’d get to hang out with my grandparents, eat my grandmother’s delicious fried meals (fried okra, fried eggplant) and play amongst a menagerie of animals and plants — dozens of wild kittens, cows, horses, chickens and numerous food crops. I found tiny baby rabbits nesting in cabbage and spotted snakes winding through the fields. We’d occasionally jump the fence-line and steal watermelons from the neighbors’ crops.
My grandparents were Methodists, and I’d go to Sunday school and church with them in the one-room church in town. Often, my grandfather would take me into town to buy candy – I could only get one or two pieces at a time. I’d spend long minutes deliberating which candy to buy, but most often chose a large green apple Jolly Rancher or a Chik-o-stik. My grandfather loved to cart us around in his tractor, to which he had hitched a small wagon-like trailer.
On holidays, we’d fire off fireworks, and make a big bonfire in the front yard. My grandfather told ghost stories while we ate the stolen watermelon.
I remember night fishing at the pier with my father and grandfather, watching them catch trout, redfish and my favorite, croaker, which makes a loud grunting noise when it is caught.
As I got older, I slowly began to realize that not every kid around me grew up this way, with this knowledge of the outdoors of South Texas, how wild it was, how unique it was.