Tuesday, November 23, 2010

LBJ Ranch

I needed to get out of the coach and act like a tourist. Jeff promised me that we would do whatever I wanted. I always take statements like that with a very skeptical attitude. We will do whatever I want ... unless he doesn't feel like it. You hear what I am sayin'.

In Texas, folks just Looooove LBJ, and I can easily see why after the visit to the Texas White House and his Ranch between Johnson City and Fredericksburg, in the Texas Hill country. Each section of Texas has it's own sort of beauty. The Hill Country has stretches of grassland, rock cliffs, sturdy live oaks and cedar trees and rivers and creeks that wind between the hills that give it it's name. It is truly a pretty place.

We decided to spend the day sightseeing, so we drove north towards Fredericksburg ... stopping in Johnson City along the way. the LBJ Museum is a worthwhile stop. It is not a large town, by any means, and one can easily see why the folks sat up and took notice of a guy like Lyndon Johnson.

The buildings in Johnson city have not changed a lot. You can still see the outlines of some of these storefront.

No plumbing, no electricity, unpaved streets. No place to buy a loaf of bread or a pound of meat. a cafe that sometimes hung out a sign that said,"Closed for Lunch". the Courthouse, a cotton gin, a ramshackle hotel. Three churches.

His father and grandfather had both been men of note in the area ... but one of his first accomplishments as a freshman Congressman was to convince the people of his district that the costs of electricity would be far outweighed by the benefits. He helped illuminated the area for the first time in 1939.

The Family Cemetery is quiet and peaceful. the monuments for Lyndon Baines Johnson and Claudia Taylor Johnson are solid but understated.

The ranch house itself is not enormous ... but it is roomy enough. It has a really homey feel that I was not expecting. I could easily imagine myself living there very comfortably.

This is Air force One Half ... LBJ used this jet to get back and forth to the Texas White House.

He entertained heads of state and important people at the Ranch ... he was famous for the barbecues that they would hold to entertain dignitaries from all parts of the world. NOT your typical Washington DC function!

He had a German made Amphicar that he used to scare the bejeebers out of unsuspecting guests. He would careen off the road into the Pedernales River screaming,"The brakes gave out! We're going in!"

Then, as people were screaming, he would laugh hysterically. He particularly liked to pull this stunt on newlyweds ... and said he could predict which marriages were going to last by the reactions of his passengers. Nice.

The cattle were impressive.

The Hill Country scenery was peaceful and lovely.

I came away thinking that I wished I had paid attention more when LBJ was in Office. But I was 13 years old when JFK was killed ... totally immersed in my own wretched self in the next 6 or 7 years ... it is hardly surprising that I have only general impressions of the events of those years. There were so many hard things happening at once ... the Viet Nam war ... Civil Rights marches ... Woodstock ... the Beatles ... High School ... ohmigod ... High School.

I learned to drive, I got kissed, I had "best friends", I learned that I had a talent, my "best friends" shunned me for no reason ... then suddenly they were my friends, for some reason (I never knew what I had done), I learned that my parents were clueless, I lost a classmate to a childhood disease, I lost grandparents to old age, I lost beloved pets .... All these things loomed larger in my small life than the guy who was in the White House.

After seeing his home, the places he loved and the views he cherished ... I sort of felt that we would have had something to talk about, if we had been neighbors.

Worth the visit ... I think he was a pretty good man.

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