Thanksgiving In Luckenbach

©1998 by Spider Johnson

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The famous Waylon Jennings song "Luckenbach, Texas" wasn't on the charts when I discovered the enchanting little hideout during my college spring break in 1973. It was my first Texas Hill Country camping tour away from the bleak, windy landscape of Lubbock. And what a Shangri-la, this Luckenbach! The old German settlement, frozen in time, with turn-of-the-century intact buildings and artifacts, teemed with movie stars, musicians and fellow travelers who, like me, inadvertently stumbled into a delightful dimension, full of warm, green fog-kissed glens right out of a Dalhart Windberg painting.

After a magical evening of Lone Star beer, passing around the guitar and spirited story-telling, I fell into the camper and dreamed contentedly of an already-materialized New Age where peace and love would forever reign, wars and discontent would helplessly surrender to music and mirth, and worries would instantly cease. I awoke with a full heart, refreshed with last evening's afterglow, went home to college and planned to return soon to this paradise with my best pals.

As Thanksgiving approached, my friends and I prepared our visit to this mythological kingdom. Menus were refined, cooks were assigned and other details of a sumptuous repast were mapped out. It was to be an elegant, unforgettable feast befitting this legendary place. We would set up our camp in one of the sylvan glens, dine with grand ceremony, frolic with the deer and armadillos after a relaxing nap in the warm sun-struck green grass and regale each other with sweet stories and music around the campfire under a crystal-clear, star-festooned November Texas night, joined by my new contingent of Luckenbach friends and celebrities. I was ecstatic with the prospect, consumed with fevered visions of a renewed brotherhood spreading across the nation.

Of course it wasn't like that at all. Not in the least. In fact, I wondered if I had somehow missed the magic portal and got us transported into Luckenbach's evil Twin city. Upon arriving, the weather turned cold and wet, thwarting a sizable hunk of our plans. There went the outdoor table setting and dining, the nap, the frolicking and the campfire. Worst, where were my hospitable friends and proprietors of Luckenbach, and who were these unfriendly, unsympathetic ogres in their place, forbidding us to camp out or even have dinner? I was mortified and crestfallen.

The ogres finally granted us a couple of hours under the creaky shelter of a nearby abandoned cotton gin and we set up as best we could against the worsening norther. We quickly ate lukewarmed food with freezing hands, somehow making the best of it I went home pondering how the rise and fall of the Luckenbach legend had taken less than a year.

In the 25 years since, I've dutifully celebrated Thanksgivings of all types: with family, alone, pot-luck with friends--but none so memorable. I still travel to unknown places with a romantic's longing for the real Shangri-la. Do such places really exist outside the fevered dreams of irredeemable romantics? Or do we, teased by an unquenchable hankering for terrestrial heavens, seek the earth in vain?

>Perhaps there is, and perhaps we do.<