Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, my brother fell in love with a Mexican girl.
Not all of that is entirely correct, but there is a thread of Mexican blood coursing through the veins of my sister-in-law, Danette, with a healthy dash of Mescalero Apache. Her family lived in Mesilla, a gorgeous adobe town north of El Paso, which sits alongside its Mexican twin Ciudad Juarez on the US border.
Danette and my brother, Jamie Watson, met as backpackers in an Argentinian hostel.
They fell in love soon after she arrived at Thuddungra, west of Young, for a working holiday.
That’s how she ended up, on Australia Day, 2021 – 24 years later – clutching a framed certificate and potted native plant in front of Young Town Hall’s stage as one of 13 new Australian citizens.
The years of courtship between the two served as a probation for their relationship, which was possibly most sorely tested when my father had her chipping Bathurst burrs out in the midsummer heat.
But throughout the trials and tribulations of an, at times, trans-Atlantic relationship were shared adventures and explorations of each other’s countries which, like the Marty Robbins song, El Paso, have remained a common thread throughout their married years.
It cannot be underestimated the courage it takes to leave one’s own country where all is familiar to live in another. If you’re the daughter of a US naval officer, not so much – Guam, Florida, Hawaii, California and Washington were all briefly home.
Getting her to stay put in a part of the world that is 30km from the closest town would be my brother’s biggest challenge. The vastness can be confining, isolating and, at times, disconnected from civilisation.
Sometimes I watch her habitually tapping foot and wonder if that belies her yearn to roam.
But this is a woman who at age 18 took herself off to live in Paris, uneducated in the language, for a year as she studied political science.
She’d fallen in love. First with my brother, and then Australia.
“Even though I grew up on a beach, my heart was always called to the mountains and wide open spaces,” she says.
“I so loved this Aussie farm from the moment I arrived – I loved walking the paddocks, riding motorbikes, working the livestock.
“I love the earthiness, the quiet, the birds and the unbelievably starry nights.”
But it took some adjusting. Not just in separating from her old life in the US, but the flip from her nomadic upbringing into a community built on deep multigenerational connections. That could have been alienating.
Instead, she was embraced and ventured forth, buoyed by the annual Christmas visit from her parents, which they maintained for 15 years.
Three children – Wyatt, Henry and Tessa – were home birthed, nurtured and raised among a growing village of friends as Danette segued from her work as a massage therapist to author a hardcover book, 25 Ways to Awaken Your Birth Power, which, though use of meditation, infused mothers, childhood educators and doulas with a calm, confident and positive approach to childbirth. Many people say their lives were changed as a result.
But more universally – especially in rural NSW – was the shift in mindset that offered mothers a choice from the traditional clinical approach to childbirth.
At that juncture, years of dabbling in yoga led Danette to the Dru discipline, which evolved into teaching in a studio she established in the very grand three-storey Millard building in Young with a small army of teachers and students forming a solid movement built around mind, body and spirit.
Not even COVID-19 stopped her. Today – for instance – she is running back-to-back one-on-one sessions, online yoga, mindfulness and Smiling Mind classes from 7 am to 9 pm.
Smiling Mind was named the number one Apple health and wellbeing app in Australia in 2018. Free of charge, its mission is to equip young people with the integral skills they need to thrive in life.
Danette’s role is to present in workplaces and schools, teaching more about what mindfulness is and how it can improve health and wellbeing.
Her days follow the sun, except in winter when it’s still a 5 am daily start with meditation either on a rock, a hill, or both.
Australia Day was one of celebration alongside friends and family, bacon and egg rolls, beers and bubbles, a few lamingtons and a giant pav with Men at Work beating in the background.
“It’s still sinking in what it means to be Aussie to me,” says Danette. “In some ways I have lived here so long it doesn’t feel any different, but as the idea settles within me, perhaps there is a realisation this wandering military brat has finally grown deep roots.
“Happily, I’ve put down those roots in a beautiful country surrounded by warmhearted true friends. I am proud to be Australian and feel so lucky to be able to raise my children in the Australian bush.
“But I’ve told them you will never know where you will meet your soulmate.”