Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
I moved to Helena Street in the the Lone Star District in November, escaping the stress of running a restaurant in New Orleans. The tiny 1930s bungalow I rented is replete with a porch and swing, large backyard, and towering pecan tree. The tree yielded more than 80 pounds of nuts this season. I know this because I sold 40 pounds at A.G. Pickard Pecans – buying a cracker and a picker-upper with the proceeds – and gave away a lot more.
I’m 59 years old and starting over, this time with a better awareness of my gifts and shortcomings and the newfound ability to savor every moment. I moved with my rescue shepherd, Pelusa, who guarded our restaurant for the last 10 years, staying outside in her shotgun doghouse. In retirement she is living the dream, chasing squirrels and chomping pecans in her spacious yard and sleeping inside on cushy pillows.
Last time I lived in San Antonio, I came for a big job running an environmental nonprofit downtown. That was early 2002. I initially rented an apartment on Pecan Street from which I would walk to my office on Broadway. I remember hugging my coat against the cold those spring mornings as I crossed Travis Park, only to be sweating by afternoon.
The historic Exchange Building had been renovated into modern lofts with sleek concrete floors and, for me, a view of Interstate 35 crossing downtown. It was catty-corner from the Greyhound Station, and my Mexican boyfriend from New Orleans would take the bus to come visit me. One night as he prepared to leave and we embraced at the door, I reached into the pockets of his coat. “What’s this?” I asked, feeling something hard and square in the deep opening. He looked at me and fell to his knees – the box held a beautiful vintage engagement ring.
One year later, after moving to a fixer-upper on South Presa, I found myself being walked by my father up a sunlit swath of the River Walk in King William toward the base of a Cypress tree where my fiancé waited. Two friends – Joshua, a baritone from New Orleans, and Leslie, a soprano from California – sang a breathtaking rendition of Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” having only met and practiced together the night before. After the vows, the small wedding party walked to Biga on the Banks to meet others for a reception where we danced giddily to Henry Brun’s Latin Playerz.
The Presa house became a work of art, featured in the style section of the San Antonio Express-News. We opened a gallery in the living room for a short time and later brought our children to live there when we evacuated New Orleans. I found a place downtown where my husband could perform his spray-paint art, which I helped him sell across from the Alamo on weekends.
After returning to New Orleans in July 2005 and being shot right back to San Antonio by Hurricane Katrina six weeks later, I worked for myself, writing grants for local nonprofits, teaching yoga, and helping my husband with his painting business. When we had a long weekend or holiday and the sales of his paintings were good, we would drive down to Mexico for as long as we could afford. Eventually we made our way back to New Orleans and opened a Mexican restaurant to share that beautiful culture with the Crescent City.
Years passed and the restaurant succeeded, but not without irreparable damage to our relationship and a big hit on my health. So now he is there, and I am here. This time I came to San Antonio to be near my son, who never returned to New Orleans post-Katrina. He was welcomed at the University of Texas at Austin and after graduation married and settled in San Antonio.
Because I am still job hunting, I have time for lots of long walks with Pelusa. We have explored numerous neighborhoods and every mile of River Walk from Mission Espada to the Pearl, recently discovering a path along San Pedro creek just blocks from the house.
The Lone Star District is a diamond in the rough, gradually being discovered by investors as new condos and apartments march southward and the promise of a repurposed brewery hangs in the air. However, most residents are still old-timers, such as my neighbor across the street who lives on property her family has owned since 1913.
Recently friends visiting from California commented how pleased they were I’d found a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood to live in. I hadn’t even registered this fact even though many of the houses feature placards with family name and date the household was established. I love the whimsical ways so many homes are decorated.
When I’m not walking, I’m often dancing – at Wanda Deagan’s Dance Studio, Salon Mexico, the Ballroom Dance Annex, and Hermann and Son’s on South St. Mary’s Street where a Cajun band plays monthly.
I don’t exactly know what’s happened, but I’m exceedingly happy. At any given time, I can stretch my legs along a peaceful stretch of the River Walk, take solace in a caldo de pollo with homemade corn tortillas, indulge in a fruit cornucopia with chile and limón, or chat with shop owners in Spanish. I’m not sure why I ever left San Antonio.