Thursday, March 10, 2011

Remembering to Remember the Alamo: Guest Post by Emily Smith

“I like your hat, sir!” I said to David P. Crockett after weaving through a mass of tourists basking in the San Antonio sun.

“Well, that’s a coon-skin cap!” he said back to me. Not that I couldn’t tell; the face of the possibly-once-alive raccoon (its authenticity became questionable when I saw a strikingly similar hat in a gift shop later that day) stared down at me as David P. Crockett recognized me as his next willing audience member. “And my uniform,” he said, petting his chest, “is made from deer hide. I made it myself—killed the deer and all! Didn’t let any part of it go to waste.”

Like a curious child who didn’t know that leather was made from animals’ skin, I touched his tan, fringed, suede arm. “Oh really? Wow!” I said, playfully going along with his skit, excited to hear his account of what happened to him and his men a near two centuries ago.

“Yup, I sure did. And it’s just what He would have done. Killed the animal, ate the meat, and used all of its salvageable parts as best He could.”

Wait a second—did he just say He? As in, this man is not an actor in a costume? As in, he is not in character, playing the revered Davy Crockett for Texans young and old to question and interact with as they celebrate the 175th Anniversary of their bloody defeat at the Alamo? No. David P. Crockett is his actual name, one distinct from that of his great-great-great Grandfather, whom he spoke of with such reverence and awe as he described His percussion rifle and wife, both of whom were known as “Old Betsy.”

After a few minutes of maneuvering pass the memorial of yellow roses as a tribute to soldiers that had fallen on that legendary day, Maurice, Jessica, and I walked the grounds, listening to the sounds of cannons and banjos, old men clad in 17th Century gear paying their respects to Sam Houston and William B. Travis. Before walking into the church-turned-into-gift-shop within the walls of the Mission, I spotted a table across the green lawn, where two men sat in metal folding chairs, educating visitors on the hand held tools and weaponry used at the battle that were chaotically displayed on their card tables.

I was particularly anxious to hear what one of the men had to say, admittedly due to the charm of his costume. I’m not sure if it was the large, red-and-white checkered flannel tucked under too-tight suspenders or the blue bandana around his neck, but I felt as if I needed to know exactly what this man had to say. He was speaking to two young women, and pointed to a beautiful and large building just outside the grounds. “In the 1920’s they built that medical building and put the morgue in the basement. So they dug up all that historical dirt and towed it away without ever looking at it.” He shrugged, adding nonchalantly with a warm southern drawl, “they call it progress…”

Later, in the crowded, noisy gift shop, mothers shouted to gather their children, and fanny-pack wearing customers compared labels of “Made in the Empire of Texas” barbeque sauces and jams while waiting to purchase their souvenirs and postcards of Miss Clara Carmack—better known as CC, the Alamo cat—and I glanced in one of the two glass displays containing historical artifacts. As Jessica and I scanned the old buttons and spoons, preserved and perfectly perched in order to be examined at all angles, I couldn’t help but think that something less interesting existed.

After a walk along the river, where we sipped too-sweet margaritas and ate mole-smothered enchiladas in the sun, the three of us ventured into a souvenir shop across the cobblestone, horse-drawn buggy packed street from the Alamo grounds. As we marveled at the tacky tee shirts and Jessica bought a large, metal Texas star for her bedroom wall, David P. Crockett walked past the large shop windows, explaining how He called both his gun and his wife—His protectors on the field and at home—Betsy. During our daytrip, I “remembered the Alamo” within its grounds. But for David P. Crockett, his remembrance wasn’t limited to space or time. Maybe there was something I was missing; as a Michigander I never heard the legend told to me as a child or reiterated throughout my public school education. But, I will say, that at least, like the shiny bumper sticker I saw for sale for a mere $2.95, I’m not from here, but I got here as soon as I could!