Some days our drives are filled with surprises, and this was one of them. We had driven to our Victoria, Texas, motel past strip malls and auto Home in Victoria parts stores, through a district of vacuum cleaner repair shops (including the South Texas Suction Center which sported an animated gorilla out front).

But next morning as we prepared to leave, we caught sight of a sign for a Historical Tour and embarked on a drive through many blocks of lovely, beautifully maintained large homes, most with extensive and beautiful gardens. We decided that these homes must have been the residences of ship captains and owners, and that somewhere in Victoria today there is an active garden club! If it hadn't been raining, we would have been tempted to visit the Victoria Botanical Garden, which we are saving for our next visit -- because we will certainly have to learn more about Victoria!

We had only a short distance to cover, and we have a new, excellent, Texas atlas, so we picked some of the tiniest roads to drive this day. Espiritu Santo ranchouse The ever-present rain had dwindled to misty fog. Cresting a hill, we found a ranchhouse and pastureland dotted with live oaks; It turned out to be a historic ranch. Mission Espiritu Santo Ranch, according to the historical marker, is "traditionally recognized as the first great cattle ranch in Texas." It dates to the mid 1700s and has been in continuous operation ever since.

As always in Texas, we found traces not only of Spanish possession, but other nationalities as well. Ranch roads in this Mission River Valley bore German names. One tiny town, Panna Maria, was the site of the first permanent Polish Roman Catholic colony in Texas. A priest brought Panna Maria church 800 peasants from Poland to south Texas, and, although many of them soon spread out to settle elsewhere, the church is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The tiny visitors center is well stocked with lacework and needlecraft, and the former convent has become a bed-and-breakfast -- ambitious project for a town where only 79 families remain.

We're always pleased to come home to San Antonio. Here is where we update our car registration and associated paperwork. A special treat this time was the chance to meet Elsa's college roommate Marilyn and her husband, down from Canada for a San Antonio convention. After almost fifty years, we have lots of news and history to recount.