By Forest Riggs
Recently I hosted houseguests, a BOI (born on island) brother and sister team. The siblings (now living in Phoenix, Arizona) grew up in Galveston and from all accounts shared a wonderful childhood on the Island. Because of employment requirements involving several relocations over many years, the two had been away from Galveston for over 50 years.
Johnny, the older brother, was turning 75 on May 22 and his younger sister, Bernadette, decided to throw him a fabulous birthday party “back home” in Galveston. The hall was rented, food and music ordered, invitations sent out in advance, and transportation and accommodations were secured for the family group coming from Phoenix. Bernedette, ever the organizer and perfectionist, took care of everything, even the flights costs and accommodations. Over the next few months, more than 70 persons RSVP’d for the celebration.
I learned a very valuable lesson while hosting my houseguest and his large and wonderful family: Don’t overlook all the great things that you have around you. For me, a very proud IBC (islander by choice), I saw again, firsthand, how Galveston still holds a lot of charm and a magical appeal. These folks had been away over five decades, having moved away when the Island was “just a dirty beach in the backyard of Houston.”
I watched as these “visitors” oohed and wowed over everyday Island things that I and locals tend take for granted, like the downtown strand area, the fine restaurants, the beach, Moody Gardens, museums, the Oleanders, Gulf breezes, the calling gulls and formations of pelicans. All things I take for granted brought great joy to these visitors. The were delighted to see the Lady Liberty at Heroes Square, the giant crab at Gaido’s, the beautiful, old buildings downtown and scattered around the island and the many beautiful old homes and neighborhoods where they rode bikes, played and enjoyed birthday parties for classmates and family.
As I watched the returning islanders point and share stories with their children and grandchildren (even a new great-granddaughter!), I was touched by the excitement in their voices and their eyes. Coming home to “old Galveston” was great, but then so was seeing all the positive changes. A few empty lots stirred memories and stories of the “huge, old mansion that used to be there.” A walk through the City Cemetery, with its golden carpet of flowers, might as well have been Disneyland. Of course the mammoth cruise ships docked along the harbor site piers bought great excitement for all. Strolling through Calvary Catholic Cemetery on 61st and stopping at graves of relatives brought tears and laughter to the visitors. It seemed that everywhere we went, places that I see every day and take for granted, for them, were reasons to snap pictures and capture memories.
I watched all this over a five-day period and realized just how important any place can be to someone, to each of us. “Sleepy” old Galveston, the Galveston I see and “do” every day, is just that to me: “sleepy.” I admit that I don’t get out and visit all the great offerings and points of interest (old and new) that Galveston stands ready to share with everyone.
I suppose when you live in a place, over time you just get so accustomed to it that the shimmer and thrill of it is gone. Friends in San Francisco, Colorado, Alaska and even Italy, have told me this. “Ah, its just Pike’s Peak” or “God, I take the Golden Gate Bridge every day, its nothing to me but traffic and a bore.” It’s a “bore” to them, perhaps, but to me and others it’s the beautiful, fantastic and glorious Golden Gate Bridge.
Watching my visitors enjoy seeing Galveston again (and for some, the first time), I felt something inside of me change. As we walked, stopped and took photos, sampled drinks and food and darted in and out of downtown shops, it no longer felt like “sleepy old Galveston” to me. It became a fun-filled escape. I began to see my “everyday world” through their eyes and hearts.
I guess I share all of this to remind locals, Houstonians and others that come to Galveston, to really open your eyes and take in all that is here. Stuff we see every day and take for granted is actually quite stimulating and, in some cases, exotic, foreign and unique. Maybe we need to look at own backyards through the eyes of a visitor and see things again for the first time.
I am grateful to Johnny and Bernadette Inclan, true BOIs, from being my friends and for “coming home” to celebrate a 75th birthday and to open my eyes to the amazing place I get to call home!