I have been lucky to have travelled around many parts of the world.
Most people who travel say they want to get to know the local people…to somehow truly become part of their lives, even for a little while.
But the reality is, it rarely happens. For the most part we are just observers, forming surface impressions of the people and cultures we run into from country to country and region to region.
Over the past few years my son Carey and I have planned a golf vacation around the United States Thanksgiving weekend.
It is where both the cultural differences and similarities between our two countries can really be seen.
For Americans, Thanksgiving is like Christmas in Canada. It is around this weekend that families will travel across the country to be together to celebrate and re-bond.
While the day after Thanksgiving mirrors Canada’s Boxing Day. Known as Black Friday, it is the single biggest shopping day of the year. Black Friday is the nation’s retail indicator for the holiday season predicting whether it will be a profitable, hence black, period or not.
This year we are staying in a condo at Tapatio Springs owned by Jack Parker, the former owner of the Tapatio Springs Golf Resort.
He has about 15 condos here that he rents out, and represents Horseshoe Bay Resort outside of Austin as well.
This is our second stay here at Tapatio.
I rarely go back to the same place twice. I write stories, broadcast from destinations, and sell packages to the places I visit if I think they are worthy enough to through the weight of our travel agency behind them. And then I move on to a new discovery to find a story angle readers will appreciate.
I met Jack Parker on one of his sales trips a few years ago, when he stopped off in Winnipeg for a few days.
He invited me (us) to come to Tapatio to prove his point that his resort and the San Antonio area disserved coverage.
There was something about Jack’s character that made me want to like him immediately.
He can be disarmingly honest even when he is trying to sell you. He easily opens up about himself and his life in such a way that it becomes easy to say yes to his suggestions.
So in 2007, after spending time on the famous San Antonio River Walk, visiting the Alamo, and golfing on world class courses in the area I am sold on this region of Texas.
As the end of our stay approached, Parker invited us to join his family at his table of relatives and friends for Thanksgivings Day brunch. It was an excellent experience but with a long table of people, and in a commercial environment, it was hard to really meet and talk to people.
But that gesture on Parker’s part, and the way he treated us throughout, not like media guests, but as friends, left an indelible impression on us.
We talked about Parker as a good and kind man. But recessions don’t differentiate between friend and foe.
With the dramatic turn in the US economy over the intervening years, Parker would be forced to give up his ownership of the Tapatio Springs resort. Years of successful building and running several golf courses could not overcome the realities of a downturn that changed the travel patterns of the casual American holiday golfer.
While the financial institutions could still make Parker’s life more difficult, there is no need to take up a silver collection for him.
His ownership of 15 condominiums on the Tapatio site, along with several undeveloped properties will still keep him, as much as possible; in the lifestyle he has earned and appreciates.
Now, also as a representative for the Horseshoe Bay Resort, we are invited back to south Texas.
It was as though Carey and I received an early Christmas gift.
For the first few days we are staying at one of Jack’s two bedroom condos before moving on to Horseshoe Bay.
We arrive on the Wednesday afternoon. Before we have even unpacked our clothes Parker’s son Jay invites us to join him and his family at his home for Thursday’s Thanksgiving dinner.
I can rave about the meal forever. There was dish after dish. If you had just a spoonful from every dish, you would have already eaten too much. Carey and I both had more than a spoonful of each. This was a meal fit for the proverbial king.
As good as the meal was, it is not that which will once again leave an indelible memory.
It was the joy of meeting this incredible family. And the warmth and welcome we received that evening as though we were again part of the family.
They have a beautiful home that was clearly designed for entertaining. As Jay and Carey played pool upstairs after dinner, I go to talk with some of the family and friends.
Carey and I have been talked about them non stop on our drive to and from San Marcos outlet mall, where we both liberally fed the Texas economy.
We will golf with Jack tomorrow, and maybe even let the pool sharks have at it again.
But either way, this has been a special trip for both of us already. We have yet to go to Horseshoe Bay, we do that Sunday, but friendship is a word one should not through around lightly. But we both feel like we have found new friends.
This is what most of us want from our travels…and this time we found it spades. And if that is not something to give thanks for, I don’t know what is.