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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Road trip for eclipse builds family bonds

 

Last updated 4/16/2024 at 8:41pm

A mother-daughter road trip to follow the sun and the solar eclipse turned into a discovery of longtime family history in Orange County. We are descendants of the Pevoto, Bland, and Harmon families, original settlers.

My daughter, Kate Robards, a writer and performer in New York City, flew in to travel with me to see the total eclipse. We invited ourselves to stay with my paternal cousin Judith Garrett Segura and her husband, Avelino, at their home in Lantana, a community in Denton County.

Our road trip on some back ways gave us a glorious view of many different wildflowers growing along our Texas highways. We saw a whole artist's palette of colors, including sprawling patches of bluebonnets, pink evening primroses, and yellow asters.

When we reached Jacksonville, we began seeing Texas Department of Transportation signs warning not to stop on highways during the eclipse. The signs continued on every highway, including Interstate 20, that we took until reaching our destination.

The skies were sunny, but the predictions of clouds and rain stayed in the back of my mind. I have watched, with eye protection, many partial eclipses, but I had never seen a total eclipse. Kate and I had been planning this trip for seven years, after our friend and journalist Mike Smith told us a total one would go through Texas.

Karma worked out. Skies were clear and blue for the trip and the forecast for the Dallas-Fort Worth-Denton area now had the rainstorms not coming in until Monday evening. Orange County, however, was not as fortunate. Clouds were everywhere back home.

We stayed up way too late sharing family stories. One reason I love Orange County history is because when I was a child, I sat around listening to the grown-ups talk, sharing their remembrances and laughing. Some things, though, were never spoken about, like the time the minister of the First Baptist Church shot and killed the police chief in 1935.

My cousins had reserved bus transportation to an eclipse watching at the University of North Texas College of Science. The event was already booked when my daughter and I made arrangements to stay with them. We were happy to watch from their house with the backyard along a golf cart path between the 17th and 18th holes of a golf course.

The sunny morning had a spring chill, but we enjoyed sitting outside as we waited for the eclipses. My cousins have several bird feeders and lots of visitors for the seeds. I was surprised to look up and see a roadrunner standing in front of me. He walked away, turned around and looked at me as he raised the feathers on his head. Apparently, he's a regular visitor.

I later learned that indigenous American culture holds the roadrunner as a protector and bearer of good luck.

Watching an eclipse can be tedious. I moved a yard chair to a clearing, put my eclipse glasses on, and turned my head upward. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. So I Google eclipse times again. I'm an hour early.

I look at more family photo albums and documents with my daughter. It was a good way to take my mind off waiting.

The real time comes. My daughter has a blanket cover for the ground, but I remain in my chair, bending my neck upwards as we watch with our extra dark glasses. A tiny sliver disappears from the sun.

Watching a total eclipse move into place can be boring. Years of waiting, and it's going way too slowly. But there's nothing humans can do to make the heavens move.

The eclipse coverage moves so slowly that my daughter and I visit more. Every few minutes we put our glasses back on to check the progress. After a while, I lie down on the blanket because my neck is getting a crick.

Like a child going to bed on Christmas Eve, it seems like the big moment will never arrive.

Kids in the area have been let out of school to watch the eclipse. Down the street, a group that sounds like they are in their early teens are laughing and talking. They begin to sing "Total Eclipse of the Heart." I think none of them were in the choir.

The golfers had been out playing since early morning. They quit as the eclipse gets closer. I look in back of the house and see the back clubhouse porch and patio are full of people watching.

The skies grow darker, not from clouds, but from the diminishing amount of sunlight. I comment to my daughter about how nice it is to be in a place with few mosquitoes. "But then, mosquitoes come out at dawn and dusk," I added. It was between 1 and 2 in the afternoon.

Yes, I spoke too soon. Mosquitoes came out as the moon became close to full coverage. My cousin was surprised when I told her. She said they don't have mosquitoes. Perhaps they rode up there in my SUV, which seems to gather them.

Through the eclipse glasses, the sun grows smaller and the round shape of the moon shadow takes over. The last little sliver of the sun becomes red. The sliver decreases like a match burning up a string.

At the end, all that is left to see of the sun is a red dot. It looks like a big red star, three or four times bigger and brighter than Mars. Then it suddenly disappeared.

I couldn't see anything with the dark glasses. My impulse was to throw the eclipse glasses off. It took a split second without thinking.

The moon covered the sun and a bright, white halo popped out around the darkened sun. Sparks pop out around the edges of the sun.

The birds have disappeared and their chirping has stopped. It grows darker and a bit chillier. However, the original path of the eclipse apparently moved slightly. We got 99.99 percent totality. It never turned totally dark as it did in some locations.

But that doesn't stop my daughter and I from taking in every glorious moment of our experience. I did not attempt photographs with my phone because I wanted to watch. And I've discovered phone cameras can take some good shots, but they do not capture the true colors of the sky. My daughter, however, got a couple of phone shots.

We left for home on Tuesday with boxes of family heirlooms to be donated to Heritage House Museum and lots of memories. Road trips are adventures and this one mixed nature, history, and family love into one.

I plan to share some of the photographs and information about items in future stories.

 

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