A few weeks ago, my sister planned to visit my parents’ house to celebrate Thanksgiving since we’re all working on Thanksgiving Day. Unfortunately, my parents were celebrating their wedding anniversary out of town, and with the exception of ramen noodles and canned ravioli in the pantry, neither of us could cook anything worth a two day, three hundred mile road trip. So instead, my dad and I drove to Abilene, Texas. There was even less food to cook, but we’re used to eating out. Even though I didn’t bring a camera, I could almost insert pictures from my previous visits to appropriately illustrate our time there; there wasn’t a single new site that I haven’t document or couldn’t pull from my recent memory. And throughout our visit, I thought a lot about the cycles that we keep, the traditions that we uphold and the nostalgia that we retain. In most regards, we’re all byproducts of our past, and even though we’re not attempting to recreate our past, it’s comforting to experience something so familiar to us.
This is going to sounds petty and bitter, but it’s true. Throughout our childhood, our mom promised us many things, and more often than not, she lied to us. There have been countless amounts of times where she’s promised to take us to the zoo or watch a movie; sometimes, they were simple and other times extravagant like taking a train to Dallas, Texas, where we’d spend all day exploring different sites. When I was younger, I could hear the excitement in her voice and the casual assurance that it was a clear and definite plan; my mind would race throughout the night fantasizing different stores and places and random happenstances that would make our day last forever. And on the next day, she would get called into work or she decided to work extra or she would train for another marathon and lost track of time. Even at the time, we realized that she was a single mother supporting a house and two children, and she needed to work long stretches at a time. And in hindsight, she probably needed to lie to her herself just to stay motivated. But make no mistake, we were the victims. If you’re a parent and you’re reading this post, don’t promise to spend time with your children and continuously disappointed them; they’ll be cats and often times cradles involved. Needless to say, but my sister and I are fairly accustomed to disappointments. And even though Thanksgiving has been the only semi-regular holiday that our family has celebrated together, it’s not the single most surprising thing that it’s been neglected another year.
On the way to pick up my dad, who lives in the complete opposite direction of Abilene, I started to listen to Christmas songs. Admittedly, playing Christmas songs a week before thanksgiving seemed a little premature, but it was calming to hear the familiar words and vinyl-like crackles from classic holiday tunes. Even my dad mentioned that he listened to Christmas song to help him fall asleep, and for a while, we listen to the soothing jingles as we drove through the highway with its warm, sunlit grasslands and tall golden weeds bobbing in the wind. The drive felt the same; the road was straight with minimal construction, and the sky was blue with streaks of puffy white clouds. It’s a little known fact that most travelers despise passing through Texas with its flat, desolate grasslands and never-ending roads that stretches deep into the horizon. Sometimes it’s hard to deny the monotony of the drive. The highway provided the forced opportunity to slow down and take in the passive surroundings from the slight, incremental changes of small towns to fields of grazing cows. In a sense, it’s purgatory, an interim between where you’ve been and where you plan to go. While he was fiddling with his tablet, my dad accidentally muted the GPS, and we watched our small blue arrow drift further and further away from the calculated route; for a while, it looked like we could just drive pass our destination forever. On the small screen, we watch our map slowly expand as we continued through the highway, and it further reiterated the phrase, ‘If it wasn’t this, then it would be something else.’
Of course we turned around, and by the time we reached the nearest exit, I could practically find our way to my sister’s apartment without assistance.
Earlier in the day, just minutes before picking up our dad and hours before reaching our destination, my sister called and asked, “So what do you guys want to do in Abilene?” It’s a simple and stirring question, both a reflection of our poor planning and what the city had to offer. We only planned the trip the night before leaving, and we weren’t even sure if our dad would be interested in the overnight venture. To be completely honest with you, my dad and I were planning to go to Six Flags, an amusement park in Arlington, Texas, and it took a while to sober from my disappointment. I don’t want to shy away from acting my age, but at the time, I really wanted to go to Six Flags with my dad. And even though I’ve always had a great time in Abilene, I’d seen most of the town’s attractions. So while I was reeling from my regressive desire to visit an amusement park and mentally searching through the catalog of Abilene’s main attractions, I decided on the zoo.
As Abilene’s number one attraction, the zoo provides a plethora of species spaciously enclosed inside a small outdoor park. I’d been to the zoo on my previous visits, and I’m a little surprised that I haven’t written about it. For a small zoo, it’s pretty amazing. When I visited the San Antonio Zoo with my friends last summer, it was fairly overwhelming; there were hoards of people, confusing pathways, and by the time we saw all of the primary animals, we were exhausted. It was just too big, and the enclosures had the animals so far back from the guardrails that they felt disconnected from their visitors. The Abilene Zoo provides an inclusive environment where most of the animals felt closer and even the ones in thick and spacious enclosures could be easily spotted. The zoo itself felt like an extension of the public park with its green lawns surrounding a man-made lake. With its simple layout, visitors could easily walk around the zoo’s perimeter, browse through the two indoor facilities, and see all the zoo has to offer in less than two hours.
It’s hard to write about a zoo without including too much or too little details. Whereas some animals warrant a passing glance or a slight pause, others could be watched and enjoyed for hours. For the sake of time, I’ll just mention a few. On the shore of the lake, there’s a concrete lookout where visitors can feed hoards of ravenous carps (and the occasional duck whose grown accustom to fish food). With their gaping mouths and dead, on-looking eyes, it’s hard to deny the fishes’ conditioning over the years; the carps moved in swarms and piled onto themselves as if trapped in a net. They desperately needed the food, and I wondered what they ate whenever the zoo’s attendance was low. In the middle of the giraffes’ enclosure, there’s an arching concrete bridge where kids and adults can feed the giraffes crackers through the metal guardrails. At the peak of the bridge, the giraffes waited, necks extended, for their prize; their tongues wrapped around the elongated crackers like a hand securely grabbing a treat. It’s very impressive, and I don’t know why other zoos don’t offer similar attractions. And last but not least, there are the otters. At the Fort Worth Zoo, there’s practically a small aquarium devoted to the otters; raised above the ground, visitors can follow multiple window panes as the otters pace through the water, back and forth, back and forth, for hours. At the Abilene Zoo, the otters had a pool roughly the size of two or three relatively large hot tubs. But they still had a great time. In a row, the three otters hopped about on land before they dived into the pool and swam to and from its shores.
Later in the evening, we met Roy, my sister’s boyfriend, for coffee. They’re planning a trip to Hawaii in January, and they discussed flights and living arrangements. Our relatives live in Hawaii, and even though we’ve visited Hawaii several times when we were younger, it will be the first time either of us have planned a trip to Hawaii for pleasure instead of primarily seeing family. When I was younger, I slightly resented going to Hawaii; every time we went, it felt like we were overwhelmed by the affection and nostalgia of our relatives, by their numbers and questions and noise. And at times, it was hard to imagine Hawaii as a place to relax, a soothing escape from everyday life where people could take it easy. So it’s great that my sister's planning a vacation there with her boyfriend, and as adults, I hope they’re able to enjoy themselves and relax.
On the next day, we watched ‘Pitched Perfect,’ which I probably enjoyed more than I’m willing to admit, visited my sister’s ambulance station, and started on our way home. There were a lot more cars on the highway than I expected for a Sunday night, and I wondered where they all were headed. I assumed they all had their reasons; it’s like pulling up to a car and seeing someone with their dog in the passenger seat. When you have a pet in the car, you’re usually not going to work or buying some groceries or going to the mall. It’s an occasion, a planned event with a clear and definite intention whether it’s to play at the park or visit the vet. All of these people on the road were coming from somewhere and going to somewhere else. And I hoped most of them were going home to prepare for the week ahead and they were coming from a someplace like Abilene, where I enjoyed familiar sites and the supportive company of my sister.