Boating Adventures | "Cultivating Community" | by Vicki Totten

Oyster Fest Fun
How do you cultivate a sense of community? Is it shared values or simply proximity? Or possibly cultural and religious similarities or differences? Or maybe we cultivate our sense of community based upon our interests or our history? This is a question I often find myself wondering about, especially as a part-time resident of the Rockport community. I suspect that sometimes it is about being open to whatever a particular community has to offer and being willing to participate in some way. Luckily, I had the chance to explore a few different types of community involvement during our last stay in Rockport. The first has to do with shared events and the second has to do with shared history.

Oyster Fest, Coming Together on the Lawn
A Festival a Month
One doesn't have to look very far to notice that one way to participate in Rockport is by getting involved in its many festivals. Someone told me that there is a festival a month. I have found that participating in some of the festivals, is a great way to get a sense of community. And while I always volunteer at the Nautical Flea Market and the Coastal Home Tour, Oyster Fest is my favorite. Everyone seems to be involved in it in some way. The Rockport Yacht Club always has a float, which I like to help decorate, because then I get to ride on it and give out beads to the thousands of people lining the street. Certainly that's the closest I'll ever get to feeling like a celebrity - having those little children screaming for me to look their way - and to throw them a string of beads while I'm at it. Plus everyone seems to be smiling and enjoying themselves. I was even flashed by one adult participant who was trying to get me to throw beads his way. What's not to love?

Oyster Fest
And in the week leading up to the Oyster Fest, it didn't matter whether it was at the courthouse, where I had gone to do some research, or working away on my computer at the Daily Grind, every where I went people were talking about Oyster Fest. It certainly appeared to be an event that the entire community got involved in. I think that's sometimes how we begin to develop a sense of community - repetition of something that then becomes a shared history together. Which brings me to my second example of community discovered during my stay in Rockport.

Historical Roots
Front Porch of our Cabin at the Cedars
Because our boat was "on the hard" having some planned repairs completed, we were staying in our friend Edie's cabin on Water Street, locally known as "The Cedars." According to the Aransas County History Center, the Rockport Cedars Association was the first vacation rental cabins to be built in Rockport, in 1928. Our friend had told us that if any of the other eight owners were there, they would be coming over and asking how we knew Edie or her sister. And sure enough, that's exactly how I came to meet 91 year old Jack Howard and his daughter Judy. Meeting Mr. Howard provided us with the opportunity to learn a little more about the history of the small community of eight cabins where we were staying.

View from the Porch
photo by Nora Irvin

View from the Pier toward the Cedars
Photo by Nora Irvin

According to Mr. Howard, another of the current owners, Marian Robertson, first came to the area while still in a crib, and her father first came to the area in a covered wagon. Her family came to the area from Cuero to vacation and picnic on the island. The original cabins were built in 1928 using second hand lumber. According to the historical marker on the property, "Annual gatherings of fishing and birding organizations and groups of families were a common practice and brought in many visitors to the Cedars." By the late 1940s, according to the marker, the original outhouses, iceboxes, hot plates and a windmill were replaced by hot and cold running water, gas stoves, refrigerators and clothes lines.

Mr. Howard and his family were initially one of the families coming to the cabins each year as renters on vacation. It wasn't until they were being sold in the early 1970's, that the group of families went from being annual renters to actually owning the property. That was when Mrs. Robertson gathered the other seven families, who all knew each other from church connections in the Austin area and had been coming there for years together, and found a way to purchase the cabins as a shared property.

Each family owns their own cabin, however, everyone owns the property together. I suspect that the shared ownership portion might be how they have managed to maintain a sense of community within the eight cabins. This gives them a shared purpose, especially during their annual "pier review" when the families all come together to make repairs to the pier and T-head.

When talking about the cabins, they always refer to them by their cabin numbers. As my husband and I sat on the front porch of their cabin, which is cabin #6, Mr. Howard told us how #4 blew away in one of the storms. As we chatted, his daughter Judy, who grew up coming to the cabins every summer, was busy putting a new coat of paint on the trim, occasionally entering into the conversation to elaborate on her Dad's recollections or to add some of her own. She shared that even though all of the original owners were connected and had children about the same age, the children didn't really socialize that much in Austin - but always looked forward to seeing each other every summer at the cabins. In reflecting on all of those years, she added "We've been through a lot of births and deaths together."

91 year "young" Jack Howard

Besides #4 blowing away, the cabin they refer to as "the big house" burned down and had to be rebuilt several years ago. It is the Robertson's, whose Mom originally came to Rockport as a baby, who live in the big house now. Judy recalled that when they were all still renting and used to go into the big house, the stairway to the top was always locked. "We kids never knew what was up there but we were just sure there were dead bodies," she recalled with a laugh.

Jack and his daughter Judy swapping tales

I suspect it was the owners shared history and love of the area that may have enabled them to maintain a sense of community with the place and with one another. According to Judy, as an adult child of one of the owners with children of her own, she is hopeful that she and the other adult children will be able to keep the community going so it will still be there for their own children to take over and enjoy.

And even though Mr. Howard never lived full time in Rockport, it was clear that he was part of its community and can rightfully claim part of its history. He did, however, caution me at the end of our conversation that "Some of the stories I told you are true." I was just grateful to have been the recipient of them and was left with a renewed appreciation for the many ways we can find and create community.

Vicki and husband, ceramic artist Stan Irvin, are both retired professors who have discovered the joys of Rockport and living part-time on their 33' sailboat, while exploring new sailing destinations and adventures.

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