In 1983, my wife and I were single, teaching school on a small salary for a small, Christian school in Houston and we had to watch our money carefully. Living away from family, we were limited to Christmas when it came to spending the holidays with family, so we made a date and ate Thanksgiving dinner in the dining room at the Galvez Hotel in Galveston. They were known for their holiday buffets, so we decided to splurge a bit an enjoy the atmosphere. The Galvez is a historic hotel, dating back to the turn of the century, right on the beach and their dining room is still decorated in that turn of the century Victorian elegance.
We’ve returned on many occasions. Of course, to some people, having Thanksgiving dinner in a hotel dining room may seem a bit irregular, but it has become a tradition for those of us who live far from family and do not always have the opportunity to travel. We missed the Galvez during the years we lived away from Houston, and during the years when we were able to travel to family, but we’ve been there regularly in the years since my Dad died, and we always enjoy it.
Today, it was more than just a holiday experience. Galveston was devastated by Hurricane Ike back in September. The storm surge, much higher than a category 2 storm normally produces, and lasting much longer than normal, flooded most of the city, up to 10 feet deep in places. The eye wall also crossed directly over Galveston, bringing the highest winds in the storm. The effect was disastrous all along the Texas coast, and particularly devastating for the Bolivar Peninsula, just north of Galveston Island itself, but the effect in Galveston was also devastating. Thousands of homes and businesses flooded, city services came to a standstill, and the recovery has just begun.
Yet, the Galvez is still there in its turn of the century elegance. Sitting atop the seawall, which, ironically, was the only part of Galveston that did not flood, it is somewhat of an island to itself. While the trees, grass and shrubbery all over the city is dead, due to the salt water that flooded it, the oleanders, palm trees and grass which surrounds the Galvez are still alive, green and beautiful. The damage the hotel sustained during the storm was not severe, and has been repaired. The Thanksgiving buffet, which begins at 10:30 a.m. and finishes up around 6:00 p.m was as crowded as ever. This year, not only did we enjoy our dinner, but we felt that we were, in a small way, contributing to the city’s recovery. The jobs that the hotel provides are very welcome, especially in light of the layoffs that have occurred at UTMB this past month, and the fact that most businesses are still in recovery and have not re-opened.
Broadway, the main street of central Galveston, is still a street of closed businesses. Contractors are working everywhere, and most of the debris that was piled five feet high along the street a month ago is gone. But few businesses have re-opened. It was especially sad to see Galveston’s famed street The Strand, once booming with souvenir shops, restaurants, novelty dealers and the Grand Opra House, virtually empty, stores still boarded up, and the street looking like it might be at least a year from recovery.
But it does appear that life is returning to Galveston. It is a unique city in Texas, historic, founded out of a pioneering spirit, the port of entry for most of those who pioneered the settlement of what was once a territory belonging to Mexico, then an independent country, and now a state. Much like New Orleans, it houses a culture and a lifestyle that can’t really be found anywhere else. Its history is one of having been shaped by the great storms that have devastated it, and yet surviving them, and thriving afterward. Ike will go down in its history as one of the more devastating storms it experienced. But it will recover, and what will emerge will be just as charming, beautiful, and strong as what was there before. I am glad that we may have had just a small part in helping it recover. It is one of my favorite places to go, and I miss not being able to spend time there.
Dickens on the Strand, by the way, is on for this year. The stores, shops and restaurants may be in the process of rebuilding, but the festival will go on, and I’ll be praying for the brisk, windy, chilly nights that make this such a great event. Thank you for commenting and making the correction.