Long love affair with Port Aransas
We started coming to Port Aransas in the late 1960s or early 1970s. My daughters, Michelle (Mueller) and Mariposa (AKA Candace McGriffy), were not yet teenagers. (Candace was not yet Mariposa, either, but that’s another story. It’s Spanish for “butterfly.”)
The kids loved the beach, and I loved to fish, and we’d travel here with some of our friends from Austin and elsewhere for a few days at the beach. We were all young parents, so the money supply was not great. So we tried to be as minimalist – make that “as cheap” -- as possible.
Our first stays were in the old Rock Cottages. That worked OK, since we were at the cottages mostly only to sleep and clean up. The beach was the main attraction.
If we could catch our supper surf-casting, or out on the south jetty, that was good.
Once, we decided we could save money by camping on the beach. If you haven’t done that before, you may not understand why we camped just one night. If you have tried it, you probably know: Sand and grit gets into everything.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until years later that I was told that if you dust yourself with talcum powder all over just before you go to bed, it will cut the grit.
Even knowing that hasn’t proved sufficiently enticing enough to cause me to try beach-camping again; I worry that whoever told me that was lying. But if I ever do overnight on the beach again, I’ll give it a try. I have a combination of envy and pity for the many folks who apparently camp multiple nights on the beach and not only live to tell about it, but seem to enjoy it.
Port A had a lot fewer residents and visitors then than now -- as anyone who’s been coming here for a considerable time well knows. It was considerably more rustic and off the beaten path than it is now.
One of the thrills for the kids – and for us grownups too, I must admit – was getting out of our cars on the ferry, looking for pods of bottle-nosed dolphins, and feeling the ocean breeze in our faces.
One time in the mid-1970s, the old blue Pontiac station wagon that had become our camping car was at the front of the ferry as it pulled into Port A.
When the order came to re-start our cars, ours refused to comply. Embarrassed, we wound up having to get pushed off the ferry by another vehicle. I can’t remember how we dealt with the starting problem -- maybe cleaned off the battery terminals. But I definitely remember the problem.
As we got older and had a little more disposable income, we began gradually moving south down the coast – to some rental houses at Lost Colony, and eventually to the Sandpiper, the 11-story high-rise seven miles down the beach, that is the fraternal twin of the Seagull.
We’d rent a three-bedroom condo on one of the higher floors for a week. While the kids were visiting on the beach, some of us guys would go fishing in canoes down the cut, or wade-fish, across the main north-south road(State Hwy. 361) and into the shallow bays.
My first wife Saundra and I eventually divorced, but my kids were hooked enough on the beach that when I got re-married to Carole Kneeland, the state capitol TV reporter for WFAA in Dallas, we kept coming to Port A just about every summer.
Carole in 1989 became news director of KVUETV in Austin. She had fallen in love with the Gulf Coast when she was a reporter for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in the mid-1970s. We kept coming to Port A for a week just about every summer.
After Carole died of breast cancer in 1998, I still came to Port A – with friends, some of whom began to have houses here, and were kind enough to let me hang out. After my new wife Kathryn and I married in 2003, we pooled some resources and bought a condo at Cline’s Landing. Since it’s partly in honor of my mother Lillian, who left some money that helped purchase it, we have named it The Lilly Pad.
We’re four stories up, and face the ship channel, which we find to be wonderful. The balcony or the swimming pool provide good venues for relaxing with a book – or just relaxing. Ships and boats and jet skis move to and fro, and usually some dolphins.
Kathryn’s father, Dr. Peter Terwey, who was chairman of the math department at Trinity University in San Antonio, used to bring Kathryn and her sister Emily to Port A when they were teenagers. We scattered his ashes, and later those of her step-mother Jean Vest Terwey, in the ocean here.
A wonderful thing about Port A is that we’ve developed some good friendships with some nice folks -- some of them part-timers like us, others full-timers here on the island. We share with them interests in fishing, eating, bird-watching, music, reading, writing, bicycling, beach-walking and cocktail cruising.
We still live and work in Austin, where Kathryn is a preacher, currently working with the Austin District of the United Methodist Church. Though I retired in 2005 as the Austin American-Statesman columnist on Texas politics and government, I teach an occasional university journalism course; co-wrote with Dallas journalist and author Jim Henderson a book on one of the more powerful Texas politicians of the 20th Century, the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock; and continue to write a weekly column on Texas politics for about three dozen newspapers – happily including this one.
Our principal Port A regret is that we don’t get here near as often as we’d like. But our grown children and our teenage grandchildren love to come to the Lilly Pad. They and some friends seem to do a pretty good job of enjoying it -- and the beach -- when we’re not here.
Longtime Texas political columnist Dave McNeely, who retired from the Austin American-Statesman in 2004, writes a weekly column on Texas politics for three dozen Texas newspapers. With longtime Dallas journalist and author Jim Henderson, McNeely is the author of “Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 458-2963.