I don’t remember the date, but it was after I got married in 1977 that my parents pulled up stakes and left San Antonio, eventually settling about 60 miles to the west in the Hill Country town of Kerrville.
My sister and I never quite understood why Mama and Daddy thought they had to leave their friends and nice home with the stone facade, but privately, I blame it on Fox News — or its 1970s equivalent — for making them believe they were no longer safe in the big city.
Mama and Daddy certainly seemed to like their Kerrville home, however, and bristled whenever Susan and I referred to their neighborhood as “the trailer park.” Rio Robles is an age-restricted community of, shall we say, like-minded individuals on fixed incomes. In other words, Republicans.
During visits, as soon as I’d utter the words “trailer park,” Mama would exclaim, “This isn’t a trailer, it’s a manufactured home on a permanent foundation!” Not to be outdone in the defense of Rio Robles, Daddy would point down the street and say, “That guy who lives over there is a millionaire!” as if I should have known that millionaires would never live in a trailer, though they certainly might live in a manufactured home. On a permanent foundation.
Allow me to pause a moment in my storytelling to say that I don’t really have anything against trailer parks per se. In fact, I lived in a trailer park while attending the University of Texas at Austin, and I brought my new wife home to that trailer park, which was located next to a junk yard with free-ranging pigs. I had some good times in my trailer park, so you’d think I’d be more understanding about my parents’ manufactured home. But the truth is I hated the place. I guess there’s something about unplugging your phone charger and feeling the whole wall vibrate that made me angry that my parents had given up solid friends and a solid home for something so . . . manufactured.
Many years ago, my family flew to Texas for the Christmas holidays, and I penned an essay called “Trailer Park Christmas.” Searching for that essay is what got me to thinking about Rio Robles again, and that’s what made me return there this week via Google Street View. That’s the actual picture from Google Maps up above, and that’s Daddy on the left, dead since 2009, but still standing on his front porch in a familiar pose, talking to one of his good ol’ boy friends. It might even be the millionaire.
I have lots of pictures of Daddy, but there’s something about seeing him on a Google Map that seems to reanimate him with artificial, manufactured life. I have bad memories of Rio Robles — pain and cancer and death — and seeing that Daddy’s pixels are still in that place fills me with a deep sense of wrongness.
On the right side of the photo and next to the added-on carport are the bare branches of a young peach tree. Daddy planted that tree himself, and he loved it. He and I picked peaches together on one of my last trips to Rio Robles.
After the funeral, but before Susan and I sold the place, the tree was cut down by a neighbor who didn’t even wait until Daddy was cold before quickly acting to expand his porch. I fired off a hot letter to the Rio Robles Homeowners Association, but was told that the land on which the tree was growing belonged to the association, and that’s why they didn’t even ask my permission before granting approval for its removal. Mama and Daddy owned the home, but not the ground on which it sat.
I should have fought them, not because I had any legal standing, but because I might at least have made someone’s life a little uncomfortable by taking the story of their callousness to the local newspaper. I should have fought them, but the truth is, I couldn’t wait to shake Rio Robles’ dust from my feet.
Looking back at the picture, Daddy and his peach tree are still standing, at least until Google updates its database. After that, my last tenuous tie to the place will be severed. It’s nothing to get upset about, and so what if the peaches were sweet? It was just one small tree. One small tree in a fucking trailer park.