Grapes of generosity


Hebbronville did such a fantabulous job hosting June’s TX Tropical Trail Region (TTTR) meeting last week that its memory lingers.  The place Bill Hellen refers to as “the old church,” the food, and the guest speakers specially invited to build on the day’s theme made our day unforgettable.

What impressed me most, though, was the down to earth quality of the people we met.  The smiles were genuine; the showing and telling, energized and personal.  The day was a perfect getaway, a mini vacation in vaquero country, a place where hospitality is a gift that keeps on giving.

“The old church”

Our first tour was at Scotus College, adjacent to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.  Both were built by the Franciscans who settled the area after fleeing persecution in Mexico in the 1920’s.  From there, the Franciscan priest led the group to the church, while Steven and I stayed behind enjoying the grounds at our own pace.

On entering the church, we were transported to another place in time.  Our sole purpose for attending the day’s presentations had been to spend time at “the old church;” so, when the group moved to the chapel for the next lecture, we continued taking pictures as we explored the church on our own.

Shortly, one of the workmen told the other three to move the scaffolding for us to have better access to the altar.  When I thanked him, we immersed ourselves in conversation.

Lorenzo said that, although Father Ricardo’s been at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church only three years, he’s been the only priest interested in its restoration.  Father Ricardo’s goal is to restore the church so that it matches its Mexican counterparts.  He wants frescos and murals painted on the multi-level ceiling and the walls, too.  Sadly, however, Father’s been asked to return to his hometown in Mexico within a month, although Father will return to monitor the project’s progress on a regular basis.

Lorenzo said that the story of Jesus, beginning with Joseph leading the donkey that carried Mary to Jerusalem, will be painted above the entrance opposite the altar; but there’s a lot to do first.  All the cracks, including the gap in the domed area’s stained glass above the altar, will be repaired; and the church will be rewired so that the surfaces are aesthetically pleasing once everything’s painted.

I asked Lorenzo about the completion date and quickly determined that, with the amount of work yet to be done, the restoration will take longer than the few months he’s anticipating.  “We’d like to attend Mass here and admire the building’s transformation,” I said.  “But how do you manage to have Mass here in the meantime?  Or is Mass not held here?” 

Lorenzo quickly informed us about their all-day cleaning ritual at week’s end to ready the church for Saturday and Sunday services.  “You’re welcome to come any time,” he added.  “The church is ready for Mass every weekend.”

I thanked Lorenzo for his time.  “God bless you and your men, Lorenzo!  You’re doing a fine job.  We’ll be back another time.”

“No te levantes, honey” tortillas

Next was the tour at Hillcrest Tortillas, Inc.       

The owner, Patricia Gonzalez, told us that the factory had never hosted a group our size, but “the family” was “very happy to welcome” all of us.

I really enjoyed her story of the leftover tortillas!


In 2001, Hillcrest began selling breakfast tacos, but not all the tortillas were sold by the end of the workday.  Rather than toss them, Hillcrest chose to share the leftover tortillas with the community.  The tortillas were packaged and set out front for folks to pick up after store hours.  Before long, there weren’t enough packages to satisfy everyone on a daily basis, so Hillcrest purchased a tortilla making machine at “no compromise or sacrifice.”

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Now, the packaged tortillas are sold at local and out of town businesses, and no wonder.  The flour delicacies, which Bill Hellen describes as “no te levantes, honey” tortillas are so light that one’s not enough!

And the tamales?  Oh, my gosh!

I endorsed them on the spot.  “They’re as healthy as the ones Mom makes, only tastier!”

The hospitality and the lemonade complimented the Hillcrest samples, but the best part was taking Hillcrest home with us.  Each person received packages of both white and whole wheat flour tortillas on the way out.

It was like winning the lotto!


Steven told me, “We’ll freeze the tortillas when we get home and take out only what we need so that none goes to waste.”  I told him that the family’s generosity toward the community reminded me of St. Anthony’s bread.  When one does a kindness for others, God’s blessings are multiplied.

Rustic sans snakes

From the tortilla factory we drove across Smith Avenue to the Longhorn.  Walking in was like stepping back in time.  Rustic ambiance, friendly service, tasty barbecue, great lemonade.  Definitely reminiscent of Wagon Train but without the snakes or the desert.



A sculptor and two authors

As we listened, first, to the local speakers and then to the guest lecturers, I was thoroughly impressed with the resourcefulness of the town’s planning committee.  The guest speakers from Laredo… Armando Hinojosa, whose sculpture will be displayed at the State Capitol; and José Antonio López, an author of Texas lore… easily captivated our attention and our amazement.  Each man spoke passionately about his craft and displayed his wares— drawings and books, respectively— for those who wished to buy.




Another author who hadn’t even heard about the TTTR meeting taking place at the restaurant that afternoon, serendipitously walked in for lunch and “was asked to join the group.”  Then he, too, availed both himself and his book to us.

Hernán Moreno-Hinojosa told me that he writes with a triple purpose: “to inform, to entertain, and to stay as historically correct as possible.”

What a great lesson for students past, present, and future!

I learned so much that I felt I’d attended a seminar.  What a privilege to have interacted not only with these incredibly talented men, but also with the group responsible for creating an indelible imprint on both our dendrites and our taste buds!

South Texas hospitality

The icing on the proverbial cake came after the educational presentations when R. J. Molina, Pamela J. Garza, and others doled out lots of unexpected goodies, including pencils, pens, planners, calendars, carpenters’ aprons, candles, and so much more from the various banks and businesses.  The unexpected thoughtfulness went beyond the grapes of generosity.

Two sets of comments heard from our hosts certainly made my day: “We have some tee shirts for you!  And, if you need more, just let us know.  We’ve got ’em!” and “I made the [sand tart] cookies [in the gift bags] using my special recipe.”

The town’s local representatives at the TTTR meeting showed that the town works together to build community.  For such a small place, Hebbronville knocked our socks off by Texas-sizing its story.  Wow!

We’ll definitely be back!

October 17, 2017

On our way home from the Texas Tropical Trail (TTT) monthly partner event in Rio Grande City, we stopped by Hillcrest Tortillas for sweet bread, mouth-watering tortillas, and the best ever tamales.



Perfect timing, too, since Patricia Gonzalez, the owner, was about to leave on her daily delivery run.  Nevertheless, she made the time to share her great news: Nancy Deviney, TTT executive director, had interviewed her for an article in Authentic Texas!

Naturally, we were over the moon for the recognition in the beautiful quarterly, but not really surprised.  Patricia is the epitome of excellence and service within the community and beyond.  She’s giving and down to earth, approachable and good-natured.  She certainly makes time for others.

Stephanie, though shy about being photographed, graciously filled us in on more of the story after Patricia left on her work route and we made our purchases.

We couldn’t believe that more than eight years had passed since our first (and only) visit to Hillcrest.  The business location had changed, but the South Texas hospitality was still as sweet.  So, even as we headed home with our freshly bought stash of sweet bread, tortillas, and tamales, we were already planning our next trip for more.


Links of interest…  Artist: Armando Hinojosa (Tejano Monument)…  Authors: José Antonio López / Hernán Moreno-Hinojosa…  Hebbronville: aboutcounty seat / history / landmarks & legacies…  Hillcrest Tortillas, Inc. (bakery): Authentic Texas (pp. 52-53) / monthly partner event (Sept 2014) / reviews…  La Mota Ranch: Bill Hellen
(agritourism: more / fishing & hunting)…  Mexico: persecution of Christians / plenty of priests / undercover priest (Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro: video)…  Our Lady of Guadalupe Church & Scottus College (more)…  South TX ranching traditions celebrated in Hebbronville…  St. Anthony’s bread…  TX Tropical Trail Region

WP posts…  Franciscan experience…  Franciscan treasures…  Historic nuggets…  Honoring Joselito…  Persistence…  St. Anthony…  Vaquero Fest Saturday

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