Another Move

In 1965 (or maybe late 1964) we moved to the James house on the west side of the small town of Van.  The old rental was basically a four-room house with the later addition of a bathroom and a closet converted into a tiny bedroom.   There were no hallways in the house, and the large central room between the living room and kitchen served as a bedroom for us three kids.  Much to my mother’s delight an old upright piano had been left in that room as well, so she got to indulge in her love of music.  The kitchen, where we would gather at lunchtime—or dinnertime, as we Southerners called the midday meal–with our daddy who came home from work for a hot meal, sat at the back of the kitchen.

Me on the left with my baby sister Sharon and brother Allen in front of the James house.

My brother and I entertained ourselves indoors and out with his metal pedal car, his plastic green army men, my baby dolls, and the neighbor’s kids.  The Hough family lived in a house on the other side of a wooded thicket of chinaberry trees next to our house, where a trail had been worn between the houses before we moved there.  There were several kids of multiple ages who lived there, but my most vivid memory is of a turtle they had, that they tried to convince us was going to be put in turtle soup for everyone to eat.  I feared them more than liked them because they seemed rough and a little out-of-control for my sheltered taste.

Me and Sharon hanging on the swing set in the side yard.

One of my favorite things about living there was what happened when we had lots of rain.  The dirt driveway in front of the house would fill with massive mud puddles—or at least they seemed massive to us, enticing us to wade and play in them as if we had just been granted our own private swimming hole.  Of course, Mama didn’t like it and we were in big trouble if she happened to catch us. 

Me on the donkey with neighbor teen.  Note the mud puddles in the background.

Here is where I learned to play by myself outside.  There was a large cedar tree I would climb into that hid me from everyone else, but it was so scratchy I didn’t do it very often.  Looking at the large cedar tree on our property now I can’t imagine how I did that!  There was also a thorny thicket on one side of the house that I would pretend was a house with various rooms in it, and I would wander around it making up stories as I walked.  I had to be careful not to get stuck with the thorns, though.  I dropped a little plastic clown, a Cracker Jack prize, out in the yard while playing one evening and never did find it.  I was heartbroken.

That house also had a huge exhaust fan in the back that was designed to pull air through the house during hot weather.  No air conditioning for us yet.

Next:  my public school years begin, and I survive measles.

miranda lambert teaching writing

Small Town, Big Impact

“Everybody dies famous in a small town,” sings Miranda Lambert in her hit tune.  Small towns dot the landscape of Texas and every other state, and rarely get the attention they deserve.  You won’t hear names like Van, Lindale, Mineola, Gladewater, Big Sandy, Mabank, etc. as often as you hear Dallas, Houston, and Austin, but those small communities are every bit as important as those big cities.  Even more so.  After all, Miranda Lambert herself hails from the small East Texas town of Lindale, Texas, population 5000, more or less, “population plus one minus one,” as she sings.
It is the small town that forms the backbone of America, safeguarding the values and mores of our society.  It is where city people go home for the holidays or move to retire from their bustling city lives.  Being from a small town is a big deal these days; small town folks are proud of their roots, thanks to celebrities who sing the praises of the towns they grew up in.
Like Kacey Musgraves, who grew up in Golden, Texas, and went to public school in nearby Mineola.  LeeAnn Womack and Neal McCoy hail from Jacksonville, Texas.  Blake Shelton is from Ava, Oklahoma.  Sissy Spacek grew up in Quitman, Texas, while Tommy Lee Jones was born in San Saba, Texas.  Former President Bill Clinton was from Hope, Arkansas.  The list goes on and on and on.  There’s something about a small town that breeds greatness in some people.
I saw it here in East Texas a couple of Saturday nights ago in Gladewater.  Founded in 1873 at the intersection of state highways 80 and 271 by the Texas and Pacific Railway Company, Gladewater experienced a population boom when oil production began in the 1930’s, growing from about 500 to over 8000.  After the oil boom the population decreased to between 4000 and 6000, where it remains today.  Lumber, agriculture and a thriving antiques business have made the town what it is.  The people of Gladewater are a dedicated bunch, obvious Saturday night during their annual downtown Holiday Open House.
Lola Beth May, an antiques store owner and camping friend of mine, invited me to set up a book signing in her store Saturday night.  I agreed, not really expecting much in the way of sales, but wanting to spend time with my new friends in her store.  I was not prepared for what I witnessed.
As I drove into the downtown area, I was greeted by festive lights and bundled up pedestrians crowding the sidewalks of historic buildings.  I turned down the side street where The Screen Door Antique Mall is located, and wondered if I would be able to find a place to park.  The street was packed!
After I set up my table with my book display in the front of the antique store, I greeted visitor after visitor who dropped in to shop or just to say hello to the shop owners and taste Lola Beth’s homemade potato soup.  I was surprised and honored to sell several books to folks who wanted to support a local author with their pocketbooks.
Lola Beth May and her (and my) friend Marilyn Johnston.  Love them both!
Other small towns could learn from Gladewater’s annual Holiday Open House.  What a wonderful way to promote small businesses and foster community spirit!  Hosting the event into the evening lends a magical atmosphere with all the lights and gives families a fun night out.  Being situated on a busy railroad provided a thrill to children and adults alike every time a train barreled through, blasting its familiar horn.  Carriage rides and a giant Christmas inflatable provided photo opportunities as well.  Lola Beth even had a lighted Christmas village set up in one of her front windows, allowing me to witness the wonder of small children who passed by.
Thank you, Gladewater, for your welcoming spirit and wonderful support.  Thank you, Lola Beth and Mark May, for welcoming me into your store and your hearts.  I look forward to getting to do it again!
That’s me at my table!  Photo by Lola!
What about you?  Do you hail from a small town?  Please share!