Spring has sprung, albeit a bit late, even in South Texas. Finally, trees are leafing, vegetables are sprouting, and wildflowers are blooming along remote country roads. Homeowners like us are clearing out the bushes and shrubs and trees that didn’t survive last month’s devastating winter freeze, and people are swarming local garden centers and nurseries in search of replacement plants. I’m told that flats of flowers and ground covers are snatched from the beds of delivery trucks before they can even be unloaded and priced. It’s not toilet paper anymore, but plants and shrubs that are in short supply.
Which is why we made a “family field trip” almost three hours away up to The Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, TX, to celebrate my husband’s birthday on Sunday. I love my herbs and orchids, but he is the real gardener among us, and he has been mourning the loss several of his prized, heirloom roses since the freeze. For all the convenience of ordering rose bushes through the mail, nothing beats selecting them from a nursery that specializes in heritage varieties and has them in bloom. So away we went for the birthday day.
I should add, by the way, that even though we have all been vaccinated, this was the first time my husband and I were out and about to anywhere other than a grocery store, a drug store, or a doctor’s office since March of last year. Furthermore, I have to admit to more than a little personal anxiety about making a day trip through the rural areas of Texas where masks and Covid precautions have mostly been dismissed all along. But that’s another issue.
In spite of its rather out-of-the way location, The Antique Rose Emporium has been a destination for lovers of heirloom or “old” roses for 35 years. The eight acres of cultivated gardens and landscapes full of trailing vines and artfully arranged plantings, including sections of potted roses for sale, seems more like a botanical garden than a retail nursery. People come from all over just to wander the paths, hauling their plant selections in shopper wagons and taking advantage of photo ops at every turn. (See above.) Sunday was no different; it was crowded and there were few masks in sight, but at least we were all outdoors. Sadly, the ravages of the recent winter freeze were in evidence even here in many of the garden plantings, and certainly in the lower inventory of available rose varieties. Even so, it was nice to be out on a beautiful sunny day and my husband did find some selections.
Our son, who drove us in his big Ford F150 (expecting, no doubt, a bigger garden haul than we ended up buying), had suggested that we celebrate with dinner out on the way home. Once again, having not eaten out in a restaurant since March 13 of last year, I hesitated. “Mom, it’s okay. We’re all vaccinated. You’re going to have to loosen up a little,” he said. After talking about that for a bit, we compromised. One of our favorite restaurants, The Gristmill located in the Gruene Historic District of New Braunfels, was close to home and offered multi-level outdoor dining overlooking the Guadalupe River. Though Gruene is a quaint touristy town (home of Gruene Hall, the oldest dancehall in Texas), late afternoon on a Sunday evening wouldn’t ordinarily be too crowded.
Or so we thought until we got there. The throngs of (maskless) people were so massive that we could hardly maneuver our pick-up down the main street without hitting somebody, never mind finding a place to park. When we reached the Gristmill at the end of the strip and saw that lines of eager diners stretched all the way out from the river to the curb, I said, “Nope. Sorry. I can’t do this.”
“So, do you have a plan B?” my son asked, stepping on the gas.
Actually, it didn’t take too long to come up with one, since we also have a favorite, smaller restaurant in downtown New Braunfels, with a lovely menu and a great wine selection. Being located on a hard to reach side street, it is not known to tourists and so offered the possibility of fewer crowds, especially in late afternoon. We headed there and found it peacefully calm. There is not much outdoor dining available (not terribly enticing anyway on a 90 degree afternoon), but the young hostess was willing to walk me through the entire restaurant in order to select a reasonably isolated place for the three of us to have dinner. “Forgive me,” I said to her, “but I haven’t been in an indoor restaurant for well over a year, and I’m a little anxious.”
“Oh my god, are you kidding?” she, who was about 12 years old, exclaimed. Ah, the uninhibited invincibility of the young.
We finally settled ourselves into a corner table in an airy room and found familiar favorites on the menu. Though I still had some anxiety about dining in, and certainly wasn’t inclined to linger for after-dinner drinks, we did have a nice meal, and it was welcome after these many, many months. And it was a major step, for me anyway, in our initial emergence from Covid isolation.
So you might wonder why I am narrating this personal tale of stepping out for the first time, but then again, you might be one of the many, many people like me who share a reluctance and trepidation about simply jumping right back into supposed “normalcy” simply because we are vaccinated. It is common knowledge that habits don’t take long to form, and while the habits of Covid mitigation evolved in fits and starts until they standardized themselves, they have, nonetheless, become deriguer among the mainstream reasonable population. And for the most part, these mitigation techniques have worked. Masks and social distance and disinfectants and crowd aversion have become, not restrictions of freedom, but pillars of comfort in our daily lives, proactive choices we could each make to protect ourselves and others against the illness and death of a ravaging pandemic.
I want to share the optimism of the vaccines and I dare to hope that we can conquer the devastation of this pandemic, but I am also conflicted about what a return to normal might look like and whether I really even want that. Some habits are just too hard to break.