24. October 2010 · Comments Off on Friends and Fans · Categories: Uncategorized


(Old barn at the site of Ft. Martin Scott, Fredericksburg, Texas)

We were off to Fredericksburg on Monday; Fredericksburg, Texas – a medium-sized town large enough to contain two HEB supermarkets, a Walmart, four RV parks – and two museums, one of which – the National Museum of the Pacific War – draws considerable tourist interest – and a marvelous kitchenware shop which might very well be the best one in the state of Texas. (It certainly makes Williams – Sonoma look pretty feeble in comparison.) The town has begun to develop a little bit of suburban sprawl, but not excessively so. Most of the town is arranged along the original east-west axis of streets laid out by German immigrant surveyors in the mid-1840s, along a rise of land cradled between two creeks which fed into the Pedernales River. In a hundred and sixty years since then, houses and gardens spilled over Baron’s Creek and Town Creek. Log and fachwork houses were soon replaced by tall L-shaped houses of local stone, trimmed with modest amounts of Victorian fretwork lace, or frame and brick bungalows from every decade since. Main Street – which on either side of town turns into US Highway 290 – is still the main thoroughfare. A good few blocks of Main Street are lined with classic 19th century store-front buildings, or new construction build to match, storefronts with porches which overhang the sidewalk, and adorned with tubs of flowers and hanging baskets, with shops and restaurants and wine-tasting rooms catering to a substantial tourist trade. Fredericksburg is a lively place; and I have been visiting there frequently since I came to live in Texas.

I actually have a curious relationship with the place, having written a series of three historical novels about how it came to be founded and settled. Thanks to intensive research which involved reading practically every available scrap of nonfiction about the Hill Country and Fredericksburg written by historians and memoirists alike, I am in the curious position of knowing Fredericksburg at least as well as many long-time residents with a bent for local history do, and holding my own in discussions of such minutia as to how many people were killed in cold blood on Main Street. (Two, for those who count such things. It happened during the Civil War.) And for another, of having a mental map of 19th-century Fredericksburg laid over the present-day town, which makes for a slightly schizophrenic experience when I walk around the older parts. Eventually, I may have to do a sort of walking guide to significant locations, since so many readers have asked me exactly where did such-and-such an event take place, or where was Vati’s house on Market Square, and where in the valley of the Upper Guadalupe was the Becker ranch house?

Mike, the husband of one of Monday’s book-club members is a fan of the Trilogy, and although he couldn’t come to the meeting (being at work and all) he still wanted to meet me. He had actually contacted me through Facebook a couple of months ago, for a series of searching questions about where I had gotten some of the street names that I had used in the Trilogy; many of them are not the present-day names, but are what the original surveyors of Fredericksburg had laid out. I deduced that being stubborn and set in their ways, the old German residents would have gone on using those names, rather than the newer ones. After all – when I grew up in LA, there were still old-timers who insisted on referring to MacArthur Park as Westlake Park, even though the name had been changed decades ago. So, the book club organizer gave me Mike’s work number at the Nimitz Foundation (which runs the Museum of the Pacific War) and said we should call and his assistant would get us on the schedule for that afternoon. It was my understanding that this gentleman was a retired general – OK, I thought ‘eh, another general, met ‘em by the bag-full  . . .  matter of fact, there was a general even carried my B-4 bag, once,’ (long story) but anyway, we had a block of time to meet Mike at his office – and a lovely discussion we were having, too; he was full of questions over how much research I had done, and terribly complimentary on how well woven into the story.

Mike thought ever so highly about how I had made C.H. Nimitz, the grandfather of Admiral Chester Nimitz into such a strong and engaging character – although we had a discussion over how devoted a Confederate that C.H. Nimitz really was – probably not so much a Unionist as I made him seem to be, but I argued that C.H. was probably a lot more loyal to his local friends and community than he was to the Confederacy – so, nice discussion over that. It seems that the Mike was born and grew up in the area. He and his wife (who was German-born) had read the Trilogy, and loved it very much – they were even recommending it to everyone, and giving sets of it as presents. Well, that is way cool – I’m in regular touch with three or four fans doing just that; talking it up to friends, and giving copies as gifts. Local history buffs, or they know the Hill Country very well, they can’t wait to tell their friends about it; as Blondie says, I am building my fan base. So I had a question-packed half hour and a bit; me, answering the questions mostly, and Blondie backing me up. At the end of it as we were leaving, Blondie casually asked about a few relics on the sideboard, under an old photograph of C.H. Nimitz and Chester Nimitz as a very young junior officer; a very battered pair of glasses, and a covered Japanese rice bowl: they came from the tunnels on Iwo Jima. Blondie said ‘oh?’ and raised her eyebrows. Yes, Mike had been allowed into the old Japanese tunnels; Rank hath it’s privileges – and Iwo is a shrine to Marines, after all.

After the book-club meeting – two hours, of talk and questions, and hardly a chance to nibble any of the traditional German finger-foods, an hour-long drive home, which seemed much longer. I fired up the computer and did a google-search, and found out the very coolest part. (Blondie had a suspicion, of course – being a Marine herself.) Mike was not just any general, but a Marine general, and commandant of the Marine Corps. How cool is that? One of my biggest fans is the former commandant of Marines, General Michael Hagee.

I’m actually kind of glad I didn’t know that, going in – I think we both would have been at least a little bit intimidated.

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