We took Wee Jamie on another road trip, this last weekend. My daughter and I have decided that we should dedicate one day a week to “Not Doing Work Stuff” – and have an outing of at least half a day, doing something … something diverting. This long weekend demanded a whole day of ‘Not Doing Work Stuff.’ My daughter suggested a road trip to Fredericksburg, and I thought that we should check out the Museum of the Pacific War, as it has been at least five years since I visited it. It was indisputably the last war which we won, after all. The first time I went to the War Museum was maybe in 1995 – when it was all still contained in the old Nimitz Hotel on Main Street, and an annex down the road – IIRC, a side-less pole barn. (And Fredericksburg was still a sleepy little town with an attractive Main Street, with local-oriented business situated in profitable commercial real estate, where they tended to close shop and roll up the sidewalks at about 5 PM. Well, that has come to a screeching halt, I assure you.)
We took the back way, to Fredericksburg, after stopping at a local restaurant for a breakfast which turned out to be more substantial than expected – a local outlet for the Maple Biscuit Company. The fresh-squeeze orange juice was fantastic, and yes, I would know about all that, having grown up with orange trees in the back yard. The biscuits and sausage gravy were so generous and so good that we were resolved to split an order next time. (This was the last place I saw anyone wearing a mask, BTW. The staff were all masked-up.) The back way to Fredericksburg meant driving up 281 to Johnson City, passing memories all the way; Blanco, where we had done market events at the Old Courthouse, and where once we scored some amazing deals at an estate sale at an old house just off the highway. Johnson City, where we had a wonderfully fun three-day long market one year, for the lighting of the Courthouse, the weekend after Thanksgiving. (We had to stay two nights for that in a cabin at the Miller Creek RV resort, which meant that we barely broke even.)
Johnson City, when I first went through in the late 1990s, was sad and depressing in comparison to Fredericksburg. It seemed to be hanging on based on the relation to LBJ, the Johnson ranch and various residences where LBJ’s family had lived. Now it is the beginning of the Texas Wine Road and has a new lease on tourist life. Some years ago, I had suggested that the Hill Country had all the components save castles, villas, and quaint hilltop towns to become the New Provence, since they produce such Frenchified specialty items as lavender, wine, olive oil, goat milk cheeses … and wine. Oh my gosh, have they gone into producing wine. Someone has even built a castle! The usual maps of the Texas Wine Road usually include only the top twelve or fifteen of the biggest and most well-established of the wineries along 290 – or at least, those with the flashiest central building. As we discovered, just about every commercial or retail business along that road was posted as a winery, and even a couple of places, like Wildseed Farms, which initially specialized in some other commodity – like peaches or wildflower seeds – had added on a wine tasting room. If you started at the two wineries just outside Johnson City to the south and stopped at every single winery or tasting room and had a single glass … your liver would be screaming for mercy when you got to Stonewall, and you’d be on the list for a liver transplant once you got beyond Fredericksburg itself.
Yes, it looks as if every ambitious vintner wants a piece of the Hill country – and it appeared they were all doing a land office business, judging by the number of cars in the parking lots, even on a Sunday. As for the wineries and tasting rooms in Fredericksburg itself – the sidewalks and businesses were jammed; families, with children and dogs. If there is a recession in our future, it certainly wasn’t in sight in Fredericksburg; shoppers were out in force, and it looked as if all the restaurants and specialty shops were crowded with shoppers, whole families with small children, babies in strollers and dogs on a leash. However, I must regretfully admit that inflation is clearly out in force. My very favorite vintage from the Fredericksburg Winery – the Fredericksburg & Northern Red, is about ten dollars more a bottle then it was, when I first started buying it. A couple of years ago, someone who studies this kind of thing noted that the Hill Country was where Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino were thirty and forty years ago, as far as wine production went.
I wanted to see if the War Museum had ever managed to put all the relics of that war which they had in the archives on display. One of my favorite displays in the ‘liberated POW division’ was a pair of panties and a bra crocheted out of cotton string, made by one of the military nurses during her time of incarceration at the Santo Tomas internment camp. Alas, that still wasn’t an item on display, among several other clothing relics of civilian internment. When they first put up the main building for the museum, it was essentially a bare warehouse with some vehicles and aircraft parked in it, then a series of full-size dioramas, and then … well, more and more and more. It is now a tightly organized maze of displays, with arrows on the floors, and all kinds of interactive displays and videos. They have a whole B-24 on display to memorialize the Dolittle Raid, and an entire Japanese mini-sub (found adrift shortly after the raid) for the Pearl Harbor section. Models of ships, galore – I was interested to see one of the Lanakai, which had an amazing escape from the Philippines early in 1942. The Lanakai was an old sailing yacht with a diesel engine, which bounced around among various missions, owners, and nations, including being a movie prop ship, converted to military purposes as circumstances dictated. The escape of the ship and crew from the Philippines would make an amazing adventure movie – but never mind. I was glad to see that note was made of the fall of Singapore, since that features so heavily in my own last historical novel. There was not much mention made of campaigns in New Guinea and Malaya; of intense interest to Australians and Brits … but I guess there is only so much room in a museum like this, where the initial focus was on Admiral Chester Nimitz and the American campaigns.
It was so refreshing, all this crowded, happy normality – people having fun, crowding the shops and restaurants, spending money, enjoying themselves. Wee Jamie charmed everyone, and was incredibly well-behaved through the whole day, even if it was a considerable break from his routine. A woman standing next to me in the Fischer & Wieser outlet commented to her friend that she had never seen so many so many cute children and darling, friendly dogs in one single day. And I said, “Well, of course – we breed both in Texas!”