End of an Era

It’s hard to believe that a hotel restaurant, in continuous operation since the Civil War, has closed, and the Garner family reunion was its last event. The historic Stagecoach Inn Restaurant, billed as “The Oldest Operating Restaurant in the State of Texas,” closed its doors behind the last of the Garner clan to leave, with no immediate plans for re-opening.

The restaurant’s final menu choices were limited to two: chicken-fried steak or chicken-fried chicken. Gone were the roast prime rib of beef and the seafood dishes that won the restaurant its “Taste of Texas” designation. Our gravy-laden entrees were accompanied by Italian pole green beans, a twice-baked potato, corn hash and hush puppies. One thing still available in abundance, however, was the restaurant’s famous hospitality.

Although most folks in the Garner clan are avowed Baptists (our host reminded us that every single Garner sibling had been saved by Jesus at the San Gabriel Baptist Church), our group managed to clear the bar of its remaining stock of beer and wine. After consuming the last of the desserts, we gave an old-fashioned Irish blessing to the wait staff and prepared to leave. Throughout the evening, we reminisced about days gone by, sharing laughter and tears, as we engaged in a ritual gathering almost as historic as the inn itself.

Three of the seven Garner siblings have managed to outlive the place where so many previous family reunions have occurred: Doris, Lucy and Mary. Gone, but certainly not forgotten, are Jack (Cliff’s Dad), Clifford Duncan (after whom Cliff was named), Lillian (after whom “Lillian’s Law” was named, a Texas statute that holds dog owners responsible when injury or death results from a dog attack) and Verna Jo.

Sunday morning brought a gentle rain and southerly breezes to Tranquil Gardens–an unfortunate turn in the weather that prevented us from welcoming relatives staying nearby for a tour of Cloud 9. Perhaps we could all learn a lesson from a saying mounted above a mantel in the now-shuttered Stagecoach Inn Restaurant. “Enjoy Yourself,” it says,  “It’s Later Than You Think.” We enjoyed good company at the Garner family reunion, but the lateness of the hour–combined with the rainy weather–prompted our early departure for Dallas.