Have you ever been a part of a story that begins as an amusing tale, morphing into something epic, eventually becoming legendary? It’s almost like telephone. You know the game. One person starts with a word or a phrase, passing it on to the next person’s ear and so on and so forth and by the time the words get passed to the person at the end of the line, it’s developed into something else entirely.
Just like telephone, this story has been told so many times and passed on to so many people, I oftentimes question what is imagined and what is truth, even though I was there. Some of the details have become fuzzy or lost in translation over the years, but it remains that my family did end up on Willie Nelson’s golf course in a station wagon.
We would jest over the years how similar our family’s vacations seemed to those of National Lampoon’s. We even had the same station wagon the Griswold’s drove in Christmas Vacation. I-DENTICAL (said like the lawyer in My Cousin Vinny). Maybe my father was actually named Clark in another life…
We were doing a big vacay to see one of the coolest uncles a girl could ask for – Uncle Don. He lived in Austin, Texas (still does). We drove from New Paris, Indiana to Austin, Texas one sunny July back in the day. I remember sitting in the middle in the backseat, sandwiched between my older sister and my big brother. My younger sister was stuck in the front seat between the folks, and my oldest sister was probably relaxing with friends somewhere in Lafayette thanking her lucky stars she wasn’t crammed into the old Ford Taurus Station Wagon for 22 hours each way.
Fast forward and we arrive in Texas. My uncle is a fantastic host. For the next several days he takes us to The Alamo, to Sea World, to amazing restaurants and whatever else floats a family’s boat on holiday. We loved Texas! Everything really is bigger, including a vacation.
So here’s the thing, my uncle and my father have an interesting dynamic. Though my father is the younger brother, they both have a self-imposed need to know what’s best. They are each always right. Now when you have two different people, it’s impossible for both individuals to always be right. At some point, there will be an impasse. Theirs took place on Willie Nelson’s property.
My uncle was showing us, I don’t know what they were, condominiums, maybe, or townhomes? Attached to a golf course and all owned by Shotgun Neslon. I feel like my mom had all of his cassettes… Needless to say, we were definitely fans and being from a small Podunk town in Nowheresville, we were kids suddenly thisclose to celebrity.
We were oohing and awing and thinking how totally cool it was that we were driving around Willie Nelson’s parking lot. The men in our car were all golfers, so I think they were doubly impressed with the property for that purpose alone. But all fun things must come to an end, and it was time to move on from our little brush-with-fame detour to head back to the highway. Which brings us to …
This was in the day before Tom Toms and other forms of GPS. My dad and Uncle Don had to consult a map. An honest to God paper map. It was bound. It had pages. Multiple pages. They disagreed with how to get back to the highway. One would think that you’d logically return the way you came. However, logic is out the window when you have a need to be efficient. Oh, and the need to be right.
They went back and forth with one another claiming they each knew a faster route to the highway after digesting the map and triangulating our location. I kept hearing the word “shortcut” thrown out into the conflict-ridden conversational tide that was quickly sweeping over the sandy colored seats of the car.
Finally, a route was decided. With my father behind the wheel and my Uncle playing First Mate, we began to move.
As we left the condominiums behind, we ventured forth into the unknown, never looking back from whence we came.
The shortcut to the highway became narrower, but it was going to be a nice scenic route. There were lush green spaces on either side of the road. Trees overhanging here and there. It was beautiful. And the road continued to narrow making it a lovely and intimate stretch to traverse.
I don’t know who noticed it first, but as a golf cart was coming directly at us on the now barely one-lane road, realization hit somewhere. We were not on a scenic shortcut to the highway. We were on Willie Nelson’s golf course in our station wagon. Like literally on the golf course, or golf cart path if you want to be that guy.
I do remember my dad reversing. I don’t recall us turning around on the green. I had been relegated to the trunk of the station wagon because we were a bit beyond capacity (try crammed like sardines) with Uncle Don added into the mix (because you could get away with stuff like putting a kid in the trunk of a wagon in the 80s), so everything I was getting was second hand. I did see the golf cart as I peered over the backseat, but everything else was a blur. Cue people staring, though. That wasn’t a blur.
I feel it’s still being disputed who’s brilliant shortcut it was; neither my father nor my uncle now wanting to lay claim. The particulars have been lost to myth over the years, but the fact that my family had an extraordinary adventure in our little station wagon that could, in a most unexpected way, remains.
One of the best vacations we ever had.