remembering the alamo, remembering stouffville

Posted by on Jun 27, 2012

How are we formed by the stories we tell and the songs we sing? Do the stories/songs matter? I think they do, and over the past few weeks I’ve seen some vivid examples of this process in action. In fact, seeing “how it’s done” at The Alamo in Texas gave me some new eyes to see “how it’s being done” right here in Stouffville, Ontario. The second-to-last stop on my spring USA tour was in San Antonio – home of “The Alamo.” As a Canadian prairie boy whose first decade of life coincided with the 70s, I have a mental picture from our black and white TV of some guy with a rifle and strange ‘coonskin cap and a little ditty (which I can still sing) “Daveeeey, Davey Crockett, king of the wild frontier!” I’m familiar with the phrase “remember the Alamo!” having something to do with being brave and bracing yourself to face impossible odds in a hopeless situation (“last stand”) of some kind. And that’s about all I knew, until a few weeks ago. Spending a couple of hours at the Alamo site in San Antonio is a tremendous education in how history itself can be enlisted to form identity, character, and behaviour in powerful ways. The Alamo is called a “Shrine” (with a capital “S”) and a “sacred place” (“Welcome to the Alamo, the Shrine of Texas liberty.”) Colonel William Travis’ “Victory or Death” letter from within the besieged Alamo, calling for reinforcements (“I shall never surrender or retreat… the Lord is on our side…” – Feb 24, 1836) Guides in period costume, explaining and demonstrating everything from weapons to medical techniques to games played by soldiers of the time. The (historically uncertain) story of Travis taking his sword and “drawing a line in the sand” has become familiar language denoting bravery and resolve and decisiveness in any conflict. So many ways of drawing us into the story, with the sense that we continue to be not only heirs of this legacy (“freedom vs. tyranny”!) but participants in the ongoing struggle (“When Colonel Travis called for reinforcements, you’re exactly who he had in mind… Cross the line. Join the Allies of The Alamo today…”) I didn’t get a picture of it, but in the gift shop I jotted down over 30 different kinds of “take-home” items commemorating The Alamo – everything from keychains, mugs, and postcards to movies and toys and dolls and cardboard cut-out model sets to re-enact the siege at home. In one corner of the gift shop there was a movie trailer playing (“Alamo: The Price of Freedom”) – another vivid example of what I’m talking about. As a songwriter for the church, who cares deeply about the songs we sing and the stories we tell and how they help to form us, I found all of this fascinating. And having rolled past...

Read More »