Remember the Alamo?

Living Up to Lofty Recollections

Remember the Alamo? I sure do. After all, I took Texas History in school – not just once, but six times! See, in Texas it's a part of the curriculum for all fourth graders and seventh graders, so I had it two years as a student myself; and then when both of my kids came along I went through it twice with each of them, too. (Translation: I was the one who nagged them through all those book reports, helped them study for tests, and single-handedly constructed two authentic replicas of the Alamo out of sugar cubes! Trust me – I earned every C+ they got!)

But more than just learning about that historic battle, I've actually visited the site where it happened. My parents took me there for the first time back in 1962, when I was just eight years old. It's sort of a rite of passage for kids raised in the Lone Star State, you know, like dipping your very first tortilla chip in fiery hot salsa, or learning how to hypnotize a horny toad.

Anyway, as a result of all this exposure, I know all there is to know about this famous Texas landmark – including one obscure little fact that you won't find in any of the textbooks: The Alamo has shrunk. That's right, I said it has shrunk, and I can prove it.

See this photograph of me with my Mom and two sisters, taken at the front entrance on that very first visit? Well, if you click on it to bring up a larger version, you can clearly tell how huge those big old carved wooden doors were, compared to how tall I was. Even now I remember being amazed at the size of that imposing archway, flanked on either side by those massive stone columns. At the time I thought the walls were about fifty feet thick, and the trademark curved top edge of the mission had to be at least twelve stories high.

Imagine my shock then, when I went back two decades later with my own children, and discovered to my dismay that the whole thing had shrunk to about half its original size! I couldn't believe it! And I wasn't the only one who noticed the change. My husband, who also hadn't been back since he was in grade school, just kept muttering over and over, "I could have sworn this place was a whole lot bigger…”

Oh sure, we tried to put up a good front for the kids, pointing out bullet holes in the plaster walls, and enticing them to imagine what it was like to fight Santa Anna's army with nothing but a couple of small cannons and a few crude rifles. We must have done a pretty good job of convincing them too, because a few moments later five-year-old Jason, proudly sporting his coonskin cap, pointed at the sidewalk and shouted excitedly "Look! It's Davy Crockett's blood!” (We didn't have the heart to tell him it was actually red snow cone juice.) But despite our feigned enthusiasm, neither Marc nor I could shake that feeling of being terribly let down and disappointed.

Have you ever had an experience like this? Maybe it happened when you returned to the old house where you used to visit your grandmother. In your childhood memories, the front porch was wider than a football field, the swing hung from an oak tree two miles high, and the grassy backyard stretched on forever. But when you came back as a grownup, nothing seemed nearly as large and grand as it used to be. Sure you're bigger yourself now, but there's no way on earth that adding a couple of extra feet to your own height could account for how drastically the surroundings diminished since you saw them last. The only possible explanation is that the places we knew as children really and truly do grow smaller over time. This was certainly the case with our return trip to San Antonio.

On that particular outing, when it came time for the obligatory family vacation photo, my husband and I positioned our children in exactly the same spot where we had each stood so many years ago ourselves. In doing so I was suddenly struck by how small they both looked standing there, arms stretched way up, barely able to reach the base of the old stone pillar. I could tell by their faces that they thought this place was absolutely humongous.

Just before snapping the picture, I shouted out to them, "Remember the Alamo!” And then I added softly to myself, "…because by the time you come back, it will have shrunk.”

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