Showing off our town on the Fourth of July

By Ken Esten Cooke —

Our big-city friends got a taste of small-town Americana last weekend. We invited Gus and Rochelle Gonzales to pack up their two boys, escape the big city of Austin and experience Fredericksburg.

My wife, Christine, and Rochelle had met in the mid-1990s while working at Hispanic and Moderna magazines. Gus and Rochelle had just begun dating, and Gus came to a party in his Navy whites. He had just left the service after being stationed in both San Diego and Norfolk. We attended their wedding a few years later, where Gus sang the Mexican love ballad “Sabor a Mi” to his bride and, to show his humorous side, had an ice sculpture of Batman.

We were fast friends. Gus appreciated the same books, music and dash of politics as I did, so we hit it off. We attended concerts together and even a Robert Burns Supper to celebrate the Scottish poet and try haggis. Years later, we see each other too infrequently, but our gatherings are full of food, drink and laughter.

Neither he nor Rochelle had been to Fredericksburg in years.

We lucked out and found a Main Street parking spot late Thursday night and readied for the Fourth of July parade on Friday. We sat in lawn chairs in the back of the pickup truck and enjoyed the floats, tractors, cars and bands that put no small amount of time into their decorations. As they marched by the front of the courthouse, we spectators got a taste of the best aspects of another time. That’s one reason why so many enjoy coming to our town.

That afternoon was filled with swimming, cooking and camaraderie. We cooked up burgers and brats, fresh corn and veggies, and — after being joined by more friends — gorged ourselves among the red, white and blue decorations. The kids swam and played, and the weather provided the perfect backdrop to our national holiday. That night, we had a front-row seat to the awesome fireworks display at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park.

On Saturday, the wives took the children to see a movie at Fritztown Cinema, and my weekend highlight was taking my Navy veteran buddy to the National Museum of the Pacific War. From the opening exhibit, explaining the backdrop of the buildup, to the war, that place is such a treat for all.

It is so well done, and we marveled at what an honest look it was at the big war. The exhibits don’t come off as boosterism, but a dead-honest look at the strategic and moral challenges of war. We took in the strategic genius of Admiral Nimitz and his fellow commanders of the seas — taking back the Pacific islands one at a time, fighting for positions in lands our men had never known. I told Gus that a member of the Doolittle Raid crew was in town that weekend to take a flight on a C-47. (See that story elsewhere in this issue.)

We also saw people of all backgrounds drawn to this monument. The museum acknowledges our country’s poor treatment of our minority soldiers who fought just as valiantly — indeed, the military was at the forefront of integration. It also identifies the moral dilemma of the internment of Japanese citizens. In that honesty, the museum is inviting to all. It also showed the desire for isolationism by some, an attitude that resonates still today.

I noticed our visitors of Japanese descent taking it all in. It reminded me of when my father and a Japanese tourist stood together at Pearl Harbor over the watery grave of the USS Arizona. Though they shared no language, yet they acknowledged each other, nodded and shared tears. Understanding and forgiveness are international and eternal human traits.

Gus and I admired the Admiral Nimitz statue, and headed over to Fredericksburg Brewing Company to talk more about the museum, our families, our lives. With family obligations, “man time” is usually in short supply, so we savored every sip and syllable.

I’ve had city slicker friends before that good-naturedly poked fun at my small-town upbringing and laughed at the size of our phone books. But on this Fourth, we couldn’t imagine a better time in a nicer setting. 

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