Wow! What a wild summer this was! I’m exhausted. On a lovely Sunday early in the summer The Husband and I went to Greenwood Cemetery, one of the oldest and loveliest cemeteries in the area, to attend the United Daughters of the Confederacy Confederate Memorial Day ceremony, which celebrates all veterans of all American wars. I’m not a member, although by ancestry I am qualified several times over, but I do respect all veterans. The ladies had put flags on all the veteran graves they knew of, and had both the American and Texas flags on standards by the speakers’ stand. And were the ladies dressed! Hats, dresses and heels, just like for church. No gloves, though. Of course, I was in a pantsuit (a nice one, peach embroidered with flowers) as I’m not sure I even own a dress that isn’t either a cocktail creation or a long formal, but I did wear a hat. A fancy, large brimmed straw decorated with a small bouquet of flowers woven from straw. Sometimes it just does you good to dress up. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture during the ceremony, but here’s one of the podium area during the set-up.
We began with the Pledge of Allegiance, then sang the Star Spangled Banner; then we said the Texas Oath of Allegiance, and sang Texas, Our Texas, which I probably have not sung since elementary school. Then we had a lovely invocation, and a series of speakers on subjects like why we should honor all veterans and the charitable outreach efforts of the Daughters of the Confederacy. After the program we had a benediction, then walked under the trees for conversation, cookies and soft drinks. After the gathering broke up The Husband and I were invited back to a member’s house for a patio party – such good fun, even if we didn’t get home until late.
But that’s not the end! The next weekend was one we had been looking forward to for an entire year – the NRA Convention! For us it began on Thursday, when we went to the Loew’s Anatole Hotel (very elegant!) for the Hillsdale College Benefactor’s Luncheon. Don’t know why we were invited, as we aren’t benefactors and can’t afford to be, but the lunch was a delicious salad followed by cheesecake, and it’s always inspiring to hear college president Dr. Larry Arnn talk about the beauties of and the necessity for the Constitution.
The Husband took Friday off, so we could spend all day at the NRA. As the doors opened at 10 we thought if we left the house by 9:30 it would be easy. WRONG! First of all, it was raining cats and dogs. Second of all, every street around the Convention Center was jam-cram full. Of course, we were in my car as The Husband doesn’t like to take his pampered sports car to big events like this, so I was driving. After circling the center a time or two I simply dropped him off and went in search of a parking place. And I found one – just one! – about half a mile away. The attendant said I was incredibly lucky, as the previous occupant of the space was still in the parking lot, heading toward the pay window! The rain slacked enough that I could walk to the center without getting too wet – in fact, I kind of like walking in the rain. The Husband likes it about as much as a cat does getting a bath. I do enjoy spoiling him!
By the time we got into the center the exhibition had been going on for about half an hour, and was it crowded! At least we didn’t have to wait to get our credentials; as The Husband is a Life Member, which means they have to take me too. We had been sent our badges ahead of time, so we avoided the 8 or 10 admission lines, the smallest of which had at least 20 people waiting.
I have seldom seen such a crowd. Official figures are at 88,000 +/- attendees, but add in the exhibitors and vendors (and press!) and I’ll bet it was 90,000 or more total for the show. Yes, it was crowded, even though there were 20+ ACRES of exhibits, but it was the best behaved crowd I’ve ever seen. The noise level was high, considering that at any given time there was an average of 20-30,000 people in an enclosed, albeit huge, space, but everyone I heard was talking in a low, civilized tone. There was no screaming, no yelling, no arguments, no ugliness of any kind. There were lots of ‘please’ ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ though. Wait – there were two exceptions. One was a baby, probably pre-toddler, who noisily protested the immediate lack of lunch (and who shut up the moment he got his bottle) and the other was a small child, probably younger than six, who didn’t like anything. He wanted this, he wanted that, he didn’t like this, he didn’t like that – he humiliated his parents by throwing a world-class tantrum, complete with red face and stomping feet, in the process closely resembling nothing so much as the protesters across the street from the center making fools of themselves by holding silly placards and shouting sillier slogans.
If anything, the NRA show was a true cross-section of society. There were backwoods types in well-worn coveralls to thousand dollar plus suits suitable for a Fortune 500 boardroom – both worn by both men and women. Most attendees wore comfortable casual, though. I certainly did! No matter how enjoyable a show is walking 20+ acres of exhibits on concrete floors with just one thin layer of carpet is hard work!
An unexpected benefit of the show was running into a surprising number of people we knew, both visitors and exhibitors. I truly enjoyed talking with the members of American Snipers, the late great Chris Kyle’s outfit, and was startled when two of them remembered me from a conversation we had had at the Atlanta show! (Wow!) Another lovely encounter was with a group of re-enactors of the Burnt District in Missouri, who dramatize the wholesale destruction of the western side of Missouri by the vicious abolitionists of Kansas – a semi-genocide almost totally ignored today. Another benefit of the show was talking to antique gun dealers who, when learning that I write historical novels (among other things, of course) would let me hold and inspect historic guns. There was a lady’s muff pistol, a tiny thing I could conceal in one hand, but which was engraved and decorated like a precious jewel. There was a set of late eighteenth century dueling pistols, in a decorated box with all the accessories (and the set cost more than my BMW!) but which the dealer was happy to let me hold. There were replicas of historic Old West guns, distinguishable from the originals only by their pristine condition. And the new weapons were no slouch, either. There was a .45 1911 semi-automatic pistol engraved so exquisitely that had it not been extremely heavy I would have been tempted to wear it as an ornament.
You all know I’m a jewelry junkie, right? Well, there were several jewelers there, and I fell in love with a necklace made from Mt. St. Helens Stone, a lovely dark green glass formed when Mt. St. Helens erupted the last time. It’s gorgeous! Some backstory – at the ARCE Conference in Tucson a vendor had a beautiful necklace and earrings of baroque pink pearls, pink jade and tiny but perfect emeralds. I loved it, even lusted for it, but the price was – for me, at least – downright eyewatering. Still I kept going back to look at it and just when I decided to hang the expense and get it, I could do without other stuff for a while… I was told it had been sold. I burst into tears right there in the corridor of the Marriott. I mourned over that necklace. The thought that I’ll never get to wear it just because I was trying to be fiscally responsible absolutely infuriates me. So – when I saw this Mt. St. Helens necklace I said I wanted it. (And it did cost less than a quarter of what my late lamented pearls did.) After having put up with my lengthy laments about the pearls The Husband immediately told me to put my credit card away and bought the necklace for me. Or maybe it was just a thank you for having to park the car in the rain. I don’t care – it’s beautiful, don’t you think?
(Addendum – I just have to tell you… that pearl, pink jade and emerald necklace… it’s now mine! The person who so secretly bought it was my wonderful Husband, who kept it quiet and surprised me with it on my birthday morning in August. I am totally overwhelmed. And grateful. And most definitely teary-eyed! He knows how much I love pearls, especially pink ones!)
The second morning The Husband was adamant that we get there early, so we left the house at 7:30. You know my heart doesn’t beat at that hour, but I made it. Even so, the underground parking was almost halfway full! The exhibition hall didn’t open until 10, but there were several cafes inside the convention center, which was good because I most definitely needed a sizeable infusion of coffee! There were also exhibitors in the corridors outside the hall, and we enjoyed talking to many of them as well as the waiting crowd. At 10 crowds gathered at the main doors, but it was so inspiring that before the doors were opened, someone gave a performance of the Star Spangled Banner and afterward we all gave the Pledge of Allegiance to the US flag; then the doors were opened.
That evening we had tickets for the concert, which featured the Gatlin Brothers, Travis Tritt and Charlie Daniels. It was a wonderful concert, but the neatest thing was before the music began there was a color guard presenting the flag – standard procedure for NRA concerts. This time it was done by disabled veterans in wheelchairs, all proudly wearing their dress uniforms, most with so many medals it was surprising they could move. After the colors were retired, there was a prayer… then and only then the music began – and it was wonderful! Charlie Daniels came last, and was it a pleasure to hear such a wonderful and consummate old professional. The encore was especially great – Charlie called Travis Tritt and his group on stage, as well as a couple of musicians who happened to be in the audience and they all gave an impromptu rendering of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”… simply splendid! The applause was absolutely thunderous.
After the convention was over, around six on Sunday, The Husband and I went over to Pioneer Park, the oldest cemetery in Dallas, where you’ll find names of so many Dallas streets and institutions on the bigger, sturdier stones, and some burials go back to the 1860s. At least, I think so. Almost every one of the oldest stones had been broken off. A few had been reset, horizontally, in beds of concrete, but so many are just broken stumps. There’s a story that the broken ones are in storage somewhere in the city, but no effort has been made to restore them. What kind of sick savage would vandalize an old cemetery? What kind of perverted pleasure could they get from it?
Probably the same kind of perverted pleasure the destructive, obstructive, savage revisionists get from tearing down Confederate monuments. There is a lovely, world-class (with marble carving as good as anything from Ancient Greece) monument in Pioneer Park, one of the finest examples of heroic-sized art of any era around. Of course, the revisionist vandals are just panting to destroy it and – to their eternal shame and hopefully damnation – everyone knows the City Council will vote to take it down, which will destroy it. It’s terrible when evil triumphs.
Even though I was completely exhausted by the end of the weekend, I was so glad for our days at the NRA. It was so pleasant spending time with so many nice and polite people, with people who are so dedicated to preserving our freedom and the Constitution. Unfortunately, because of prior commitments, we won’t be able to attend NRA next year. I will miss it.
Later in the summer we went to the historic town of Jefferson, Texas for the Seventh Annual Civil War Symposium. The lectures were fascinating, but they paled next to the town itself, which is a time capsule. We stayed in the Excelsior House hotel, which has been operating as a hostelry continually since the 1840s. The place is furnished in real antiques – except for the beds, which are exquisite reproductions. Sadly, the original antique beds are too tiny for modern people to be comfortable, so they have been duplicated in king size.
When I was a girl my parents couldn’t afford real vacations, but every year we would splurge on a day or two in Jefferson, staying at the Excelsior House. Jefferson has some beautiful ante-bellum mansions, some of which are open for touring, some of which have become B&Bs, some of which remain family homes. Businesses exist in old buildings which have housed businesses since the town began. I did my first ‘professional’ singing gig in Jefferson in an historic cafe owned by the Butlers, who were friends of my parents and who – sadly – have been gone for years. I was about 15 and probably embarrassingly bad, but they were very gracious and allowed me to do two sets a night for a weekend. I was even paid ten dollars a night! True riches then in more ways than financial. The Butlers also served the best barbecue you’ve ever put in your mouth. The Husband had never been to Jefferson, but we’re definitely going back. Soon.
In late September The Husband and I attended the NINC (Novelists Inc.) writers conference. This is the best, most professional writers conference in the world! I hope I never miss it. It would take two or three times this amount of space to detail all we learned – and all the fun we had – but I’ll spare you that. The conference has been held for the last half dozen years or so at the Tradewinds Resort in St Pete Beach in Florida, which is the most magnificent resort. Right on the beach, and we always get a waterfront room, with exquisite service and amenities. Really, you can spend weeks there and never leave the property – we do, of course, because we like to explore. While I’m not too fond of going halfway across the country every year, I do hope we never leave the Tradewinds. The Husband and I always book a couple of days on either side of the conference and make this a mini-vacation.
Driving back, we stopped in Jacksonville, Mississippi to visit with one of The Husband’s cousins. I had met them most briefly, but it was just lovely to visit and really get to know them. The only bad spot was leaving Jacksonville the next morning a truck ahead threw up a fist-sized rock which spidered our windscreen to about the size of a dinner plate. The cracks just grew, so a couple of days after we got home we gave in and had the windscreen replaced. I’m just amazed the rock didn’t come through the windscreen and make a big hole right then and there. I can still see that huge thing rising up off the road and heading toward us. Ick!
Now – enough fun! I must get back to writing. I’m working on the new Flora Melkiot mystery (set in Las Vegas, no less!), a Regency Christmas novella and a romance novella for a Common Elements anthology project. Yikes! I really do have to get to work!