Jerry Nelson: See-worthy Galveston

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum

As a kid, all I knew about Galveston was what I gleaned from the 1969 Glen Campbell song that was named for the place. Campbell crooned about sea waves and sea winds and sea birds. There seemed to be a theme.

I was 11 years old when Campbell’s song hit the airwaves. Listening to the tune as we milked cows in our stifling stanchion barn, I couldn’t imagine actually seeing that exotic place called Galveston.

This changed when I was invited to speak at the Texas County Agricultural Agents Association annual meeting, held in July in Galveston. I didn’t need to be asked twice. Once was more than enough.

My wife and I arrived in Galveston a few days ahead of time so that we could absorb and enjoy the local culture. In short, we wanted to behave like tourists.

We flew to Houston and took a Lyft into Galveston. Freed of the distractions of driving, we were able to observe the environs.

For instance, I saw a sign on an establishment that read “Fresh fish – bait – seafood.” I didn’t know if these were separate items being sold or if this described the evolution of their inventory.

Southerners are big believers in air conditioning. This is similar, I suppose, to the way that we northerners are big believers in central heating.

The hotel where we stayed was kept at a temperature level normally associated with cold meat storage. Step outside and your glasses instantly fog up. Radiant heat explodes upward from the cobblestone sidewalk and the tropical sun thumps you over the head. It feels as though you’re in a pizza oven. If you were mozzarella, you would be molten in seconds.

But find some shade – it was difficult for my wife and me to adjust to the sight of gently swaying palm trees – and the constant sea breezes make the heat much more bearable. Grab a glass that contains a cold refreshment and it can be downright pleasant.

Galveston is city and a barrier island. It’s not surprising that the area boasts numerous sea-themed attractions. One of the most see-worthy items is the tall ship Elissa.

Built in 1877, the Elissa is a three-masted barque that is moored at the Texas Seaport Museum. For two weeks each year the Elissa is taken out to sea, making it one of the oldest operational tall ships in the world.

The Elissa’s crew has to undergo rigorous training before setting sail. I learned that crew members are required to learn such traditional naval terms as, “halyard the mizzenmast!” and “athwartship the yardarm!” and “yo-ho-ho!”

I strolled the decks of the Elissa, gawked at the innumerable ropes and pulleys and thought, “Holy cow! What does that all do?” I also think this whenever I peek under the hood of anything electronic.

My wife and I took a harbor tour aboard the tour boat Seagull II, which was captained by a very nice and very loquacious young guy named Brian. As we tooled at a stately pace up the harbor, Brian pointed out numerous interesting landmarks and historical sites.

But that’s not why we and the other tourists were aboard the Seagull II. We were there to see dolphins – and I don’t mean the professional football team.

After we had cruised slowly up the harbor a ways – in naval-speak we were “yawing the poop deck” – we were joined by a group of dolphins. This is commonly known as a “pod.” I don’t know why this term is used for dolphins; I suppose it’s because more sensible labels like “herd” and “flock” were already taken.

There was much oohing and cooing as the aquatic mammals frolicked alongside the Seagull II. Brian asked if anyone knew what kind of dolphins they were, and I replied “Flipper!” Brian said this was incorrect, that they were bottlenose dolphins. As if to prove my point, one of them chose that moment to do a small flip. It felt good to be right for once.

We motored out the mouth of the harbor and approached the weathered hulk of a semi-sunken concrete oil tanker called the Selma. Shortly after it was built in 1919, the Selma was wrecked when it hit a jetty. Repairs were attempted but, sadly, J-B Weld hadn’t yet been invented.

As we sailed upon the open ocean, I gazed across the infinite expanse of the Gulf of Mexico and thought about the lyrics from Galveston: “I still see her standing by the water, Standing there lookin’ out to sea, And is she waiting there for me?”

Half a century had passed before I finally got to see Galveston. It was worth the wait.

Built in 1877, the Elissa is a three-masted barque that is moored at the Texas Seaport Museum.