To the Big D and the Big Red Barn in a Big Way
We came to know the E35 highway in Dallas traveling up and down it first from the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport to Denton, Texas, where the hotel was (45 minutes) to Old Preston Hollow where I spoke at an Open House (one hour), then to Uptown Dallas for dinner (20 minutes), then back to the hotel (one hour) before our first day was over! The next day, we drove to Downtown Dallas to visit the Dallas Museum of Art (45 minutes) and back (45 minutes), then on to my cousin’s “Red Barn” in Argyle for the festivities (20 minutes).
If you are exhausted just from hearing about it, then imagine what it’s like for an urbanite Parisian who drives only a few times a year to end up behind the wheel on the stretches of American highways, many of which were under construction. We traveled ribbons and ribbons of highways designed to accommodate more and more cars.
The last time I was in Dallas was when I was a little kid and really don’t remember much of it. The only things I knew to expect come from impressions of the city from the CBS prime TV show “Dallas” that aired from 1978 to 1991 revolving around a wealthy and feuding Texan family. J.R., the prime character, played by Larry Hagman, was the only character to have appeared in all 357 episodes.
The 5.9 million dollar, 13,000 square-foot home in Old Preston Hollow where the Open House and presentation sponsored by Candy’s Dirt took place, was like nothing I’ve ever seen before…with more living rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms than I could count; matching male-female wardrobe-dressing rooms each larger than my Paris living room; a special “gallery” within which to park and show off a special car; a white baby grand piano doubling as a kitchen counter; a gym/dance room and an indoor theater with a “loge” and a double screen — panoramic, of course. It was in the theater in this home that I made my presentation to about 70 people after being served a beautiful spread of hors d’oeuvres, champagne and wine.
Among the attendees were “movers and shakers” within the local real estate community, several of our own clients and readers along with a few family members who surprised me by showing up! One familiar-looking woman walked up to say hello to which I said, “Don’t I know you?”
She responded, “Yes, you might. I’m your cousin, Roz!” I hadn’t seen her in about 50 years!
Sam Elchami, the developer/builder of the spec house parked his four cars in the driveway for effect — a Rolls Royce, two Bentleys and a Porsche. The last time I saw a collection of cars as impressive was in Monte Carlo parked in front of the casino.
Old Preston Hollow is an area north of Dallas which was once a farm then developed in the 1930’s when the Northwest Highway into town “was nothing more than muddy right of way.” George W. and Laura Bush have a big house there on five acres with horse stables, lake views, mountain views and golf club views. Sam said he had a contract on the house and was hopeful it would go through.
On one of our drives going either north or south on the E35, we noticed a banner advertising an Irving Penn photo exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art. Irving Penn’s photos were always some of my favorites, particularly those of his wife Lisa Fonssagrives Penn, who was a top model in the early 50’s. We vowed to go into town to see it and other exhibitions at the museum prior to our first family gathering that evening. It was a special surprise, but I didn’t expect it to have such an affect on me.
“‘Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty,'” organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum as the first retrospective of Penn’s work in nearly twenty years. The exhibition presents over 140 photographs including iconic images from his oeuvre as well as previously unseen or never exhibited photographs. Irving Penn (1917–2009) is one of the best-known American photographers of the 20th century.”
Upon entering the museum, one of the photos that used to hang on my own wall was blown up to an enormous size welcoming you into the entrance of the exhibit. Another of mine was further inside the exhibit. When I saw them, I welled up like a baby and cried, overwhelmed by seeing my ‘old friends’ in such a prominent place for everyone to enjoy. This made the trip to Dallas even more worthwhile and memorable.
“Back at the ranch…one of my first cousins sponsored the family reunion in his “Big Red Barn.” No joke — cousin “Bunky” (an old nickname) lives on a ranch with a Big Red Barn in Argyle, Texas on which he completed reconstruction recently just for the occasion. I hadn’t seen Bunky since I was a teenager and at that time he was a ‘much older’ and very good looking tall guy who amazingly resembled my father. To this day, however, I could remember his very distinctive voice.
My father was one of eight children (4 boys and 4 girls), born in the little town of West Texas in the early 1900s and all semi-orphaned when his mother died of what I just learned was colorectal cancer at the age of 41, leaving the much older father (by about 15 years) with more than he could handle. My grandfather was born somewhere in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and my grandmother was from Russia. Most of the kids (except the two eldest — my father being one them) ended up in the Jewish Children’s Home in New Orleans, which later became the Jewish Community Center — a building in which I spent a lot of time while growing up in New Orleans — a place of which they always spoke fondly.
Seven of the siblings married and had children, hence there are a slew of first cousins. Then, we first cousins have had children and our children have had children. All in all, there were about 50 relatives in total including what we called “others” — the spouses and even ex-spouses of the primary family. They came from all over the U.S. and me from Paris to be in Dallas for this special occasion. So many of these people I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years — many of the children of my cousins were little kids or not yet even born.
One New Orleans contingency of my cousins made a side trip to Waco, Texas to uncover more information about our ancestors and came to the reunion plied with copies of birth and death certificates that helped us fill in the blanks. It was fascinating to learn that mysteriously one of my uncles may have been a twin, one having not lived very long — but this is pure speculation based on the documents they found. We vowed to dig deeper.
The weekend of events went smooth as silk and it was incredibly fun to discover everyone. The DNA is always amazing to me — how so many of us resemble one another. The genetics cross over in a way that the son of one “first cousin once removed” strongly resembled not his grandfather, but his grandfather’s uncle. (We had to understand what the difference is between a first, second and third cousin, vs cousins “once removed” — do you know?)
Saturday night was the ‘big event’ in the Big Red Barn — a Tex-Mex dinner and a program that included a few words said about each of the siblings delivered by the cousins. The ‘show’ was hosted by the husband of one of the first cousins — Stan Silliman, a professional stand up comic. He added a lot to the ‘silliness’ of the entire event — as did his daughter, Sylvan, who created a game called “Beerman Bingo” we all played for prizes. It consisted of answering questions about the siblings correctly and then getting three in a row to make a Bingo. There was the obligatory photo-taking which was a pretty hilarious undertaking to get everyone in one shot.
Bottom line: family is family and family is important. Making a special effort to attend the reunion and then to regularly stay in touch with my blood relatives, no matter how far apart, was a lesson well learned in the Big Red Barn in the Big D.
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group
(at the Beerman reunion)
P.S. Don’t Miss the Next Après Midi TOMORROW, June 14, when author Kathy Borrus, will talk about her book, Five Hundred Buildings of Paris and show slides of Parisian buildings with anecdotes on each, including many unknown to Paris insiders. Come and tell some of your own stories! Details on our Après Midi page