My latest SandStory keynote performance took me to Austin TX. Their unofficial slogan is "Keep Austin Weird". They have done that.

The 15 Moonlight Towers scattered around the city are a good example of that weirdness. Built in 1894, the huge 164 foot towers provided light for the City of Austin. An investment to prevent crime and make the streets safer.

A strange, dark history

Many in Austin claimed the towers were a response to the Servant Girl Murders. Though they happened 10 years earlier, the murders terrified the town in 1884 and 1885. In 1888, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution published conjecture that the Austin killer had been Jack the Ripper.


Only Austin kept the towers

Hundreds of cities from Detroit to San Francisco got in on the action. But time, technology and deterioration took its toll on the towers across the country. By 1995, only Austin TX had any of them left. The weird little city in central Texas managed to declare the 15 towers as part of the US National Registry of Historical Places. Restored in 1993 and again in 2014, it has cost the city about 4 Million Dollars.

The morning before my performance at Christian Life Church, I jogged four miles to the tower on First Street. It was kind of inconspicuous and had a little bronze plaque on it. The towers illuminate the weird relationship between Austin and its history. A city willing to invest millions into antiquated towers with a loose historical tie to a dark period in its history is a little strange.


Weird family relationships

Being in Austin got me thinking about weird relationships and my personal history.

My Mother died last month. Starting around 1979, I had a weird relationship with my Mom. To be very fair, up to that point she had been a brave, adventurous, creative, hard working, fun loving woman. She traveled, studied art, learned to fly, married, moved to Mexico, learned the language, and had four children. After she lost her husband, she returned to school and got her Masters, then her Doctoral degree. She also fed, housed, provided for us and got us all through high school.

Strange behavior and sudden change

Then the light went out. Mom sold her house. Got rid of everything she owned that would not fit in her car, and, with a tennis companion named Al, went on the road. Along with her went our home, family meals, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthdays. We would sometimes not know where she was for weeks or months on end. Letters arrived sporadically. It was weird.

Looking back on it all, I remember feeling embarrassed, abandoned, angry, and rootless. And a bit weird. The feelings never manifested themselves in my behavior. But somehow, I knew she was not behaving like a mother. Any sense of family was up to us kids.

Reconciling with weirdness

In around 1999, thanks to my older sister, Mom had a cell phone and more regular contact became the norm. She was now 80 years old. As she slowed down, visits became regular. A little longer each trip. I confronted the necessity to reconcile with my Mother. I never understood her choices or lifestyle. But after some long talks and God’s help, I was able to let it all go. It is easy to blame all the weirdness on the other person. I realized that some of my own weirdness had come between us. I loved my Mother. Lots of people I know have weird relationships with their parents. Conversations with them reveal many who still harbor grievances toward their parents. Long after they are gone. They cling to toxic feelings from the past, that poison today.

Embracing the weird

Weirdness is part of the human condition. We all need to accept that. It can happen in the best of families. It can happen in towns, cities and states. Go figure.

I like Austin, even with all its weirdness. And if the city of Austin wants to fork over millions to keep antiquated towers. Even if most citizens of Austin, Texas don’t even know about them, that is fine. Celebrate the weird.

But I would recommend letting go of any hostility, anger or resentment towards your parents. Healthy, sick, living or long gone. Let the light shine in. Forgive, forget, love. It is not weird. It is the right thing to do. You will be much better for it.

Find out more about Joe Castillo and SandStory

1 Comment

  1. Larry May on May 14, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    Good word, Joe!

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