The Other Side of Mexico
July 21, 2016

Stephen F. Austin, Jr. High, now Austin Middle School

When I was in middle school (what we called junior high school back in the dark ages), I attended Stephen F. Austin, Jr. High, which was (is) at 16th Street, about a block from the Seawall, in Galveston, TX. Because we lost our home in Hurricane Carla, Mom (who had been Dad’s legal secretary when he’d first started practicing law) had to go back to work to help pay the bills, because the insurance wouldn’t pay for our house. She worked for the Galveston Convention and Tourist Bureau whose offices were in the Moody Civic Center on the first floor. The Moody Center was on 21st and Seawall.

I was the 2nd middle child in our family of four children (except when cousins lived with us–raising the number to 5 or 6). My older brother was born in January 1947, my sister in January 1948, me in August 1949, and my younger brother in September 1950. I always felt lost in the middle, and in adulthood kidded my little brother about his being the little interloper, infringing on my time with Mom. After all, he came along just 13 months after I was born.

My mom looked something like this when she worked at the Moody Civic Center Convention and Tourist Bureau. She had red hair (until the day she died).
Our mother insisted we take Spanish in school. (Oh how I wish now that I’d listened to her and paid attention in class). So I was forced to take Spanish at Austin Jr. High. I was kind of an oppositional defiant child (Some people would say sarcastically–no, really?) and not only resisted learning Spanish, but frequently acted out in class. Acting out in class resulted in my having to stay after school. Staying after school resulted in my missing the school bus (we lived off Teichman Road on the opposite side of town). When I would miss the bus, I would walk down the Seawall from Austin, Jr. High to the Moody Center so Mom could take me home when she got off work.

I quickly figured out that I could benefit from this in several ways:

I got to have more time with Mom, even if she planted me at a table and ordered me to do my homework.
I got to have a snack at the Buccaneer Hotel, which was just down the Seawall from the Moody Center.
I got to ride home in a car instead of the bus.

This behavior was a win-win situation for me.

When I would complain that I was hungry, Mom would give me, I think it was, 25 cents, but it may have been 15 cents, and send me to The Buccaneer with the appropriate instructions on being careful, not getting lost, behaving while I was there, etc. So I’d waltz down Seawall Boulevard and into the coffee shop at The Buccaneer Hotel, a huge gothic-style (at least to me) place, and hoist myself up on a barstool. Laying my coins on the counter, I would order a cinnamon roll. I remember those cinnamon rolls so well that the memory overshadows any recollection of what I had to drink.

The Buccaneer Hotel, Galveston, Texas. (Torn down now.)
The Buccaneer Hotel, Galveston, Texas. (Torn down now.)

The lady behind the counter would pull the metal tray out of the toaster oven and place a roll in the center of it. She’d cut a thick pat of butter and put it in the middle of the top of the cinnamon roll and slide the tray into the oven. Leaning my elbows on the counter, I would watch as the oven heated up and melted the butter, which would seep into the roll, mixing with the white sugary icing, and run down the sides. The aroma would make my taste buds stand at attention and my saliva glands as active as a dog’s in anticipation of that ooey-gooey pastry in my mouth. As soon as the butter was melted and the edges of the cinnamon roll slightly browned, the counter lady would shift the roll from the metal tray onto a small plate and place it in front of me, still steaming, warning me that it was hot.

I know I was supposed to use the fork she put on the counter next to the plate, but I couldn’t wait to pinch off small pieces, savoring the cinnamon, sugar, and butter as it burned my tongue. I didn’t care. That cinnamon roll was the best thing I’d get to eat all week.

Funny, I can’t remember what happened to that routine, whether my mother caught on or the year ended or she quit working there. I can only remember that those afternoons spent doing my homework in my mother’s office, while she worked at her desk, and being rewarded by those tasty cinnamon rolls were some of the best days of my life (so far).

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