Time to Change your Borders?

We’d traveled into north Texas when the green mileage marker popped up.

Oklahoma 8.”

The road trip that day promised a long journey, another seven hours. I turned to DH and teased, “You game?” He smiled, nodded.

A‑OK = another RoadBroad quick stop. Because, why not?

One left turn and eight miles later, we arrived at our new destination.

We eyeballed the terrain. Nothing: no cars, no animals, no buildings, no people.

To visitors, such a sight spooks.

To a native, it’s heaven, a reminder of similar landscapes, e.g., the Texas Panhandle where I grew up.

It saddens me that so many fail to see the beauty of these flatlands. Here, you can slow down and catch your breath. Tech devices don’t work well. Distraction dissolves.

What follows? A thanks offering for simplicity and clarity, for clean, pure lines where earth meets sky meets river. Hard to see it but there is water flowing in the Red River here:

Centered under a moon dot, the Texas-Oklahoma state line nestles mid-river between banks of scrub.

Look up, in the center of the blue sky, can you see the surprise?

The tiny circle of the moon snagged me, too. How many times have I missed such clear vision? 

The moon hovering sweetens the moment. Overwhelm descends. Earth’s only natural satellite transmutes a spontaneous side trip into holy encounter. Indeed. 

Wikipedia informs that we’re viewing what’s technically called the Red River of the South. One of the few American state borders so created, the waterway meanders across/around/through four states, feeding eventually into the mighty Mississippi.

We sigh, make a u‑turn, and head back toward home.

Texas awaits. So does a second gasp:

Sunlight morphs a new state line?

How did we miss this house? Abandoned or not, it’s the only structure around.

This sight at this moment? A two-fer?

We both do more than pause. We pull over and stop, both silent in a second holy encounter. I wonder: does this bustling city girl need more slow-down encounters like these? Is this pandemic self-care or something bigger?

Where the Lone Star state curves away from Boomer Sooner-land.

I swallow and look up.

Past the house, the land flattens to familiar terrain. Beyond the sign of my home state, I spot Home.

Over there. Around that curve. After a looong afternoon drive. Oddly grateful there’s no eerie ahead, I comprehend. Now I can breathe and drive. Easy.

The straight lines of the Texas state marker offer comfort. I know this place. It’s where I belong, for now.

The tight green rectangle screams precision. The two poles beneath radiate strength. Both offer comfort, valued in these times.

Translating, I understand these as guideposts, each offering a pathway to home. All roads do, but today’s messengers brought intensity in different form: two states, multiple shapes (circles, lines, borders), varying forms (earth, water, sky), and changing landscapes (flat versus rolling terrain).

Homeward bound.

Then I connect. These are messages from my recent existence.

I take the sights and their messages in hand — from this latest little diversion — and put my foot on the gas, heading south to home.

I’ll figure out — precisely — what it all means.

Later.

When Home Morphs into Hometown

NOTEThis post concludes a four-part blog about a recent trip to the town where I was born: Pampa, Texas.

Roadway sights defined the long drive to my hometown. I should’ve paid more attention as clues announced themselves. It started with a first omen one hour in.

Thick smoke from a truck fire draped the highway. Later, I recognized the effect: clouds as funeral pall.

We made the trip to return my eldest sister to our mother’s side at our hometown church. The ironic presence of the smoke — in effect, color, and timing — screamed.

Another American city fades, its population less than half of 40 years ago.

Nine hours later, we spied the little green sign we’d anticipated all day.

Its sighting followed miles of non-stops through big cities, small towns, and farming villages. Scattered among the people, buildings, and roadways were landscapes ranging from summer green to drought yellow.

Surrounding the city limits sign, two elements stood out:

  1. A yellow-gold ring midway down the pole linked the green rectangle at its top, an unique marriage of city marker to high school colors of green and gold.
  2. Cloudy skies engulfed the entire sign. I gulped, remembering why I had come back home.

My mind began to race. It linked this moment to the morning’s roadway fire.

Aha! Is this another omen or has my mind shifted into overdrive? 

Driving toward our hotel, my mood shifted to near-mania. Storefronts I recognized. Bricked streets of downtown. High school hangouts. Childhood church.

Then, as I drove down the main street, the quick stop stores began to pop up like little Whack-a-Moles. They each demanded attention, their names worth the price and tears of driving to Pampa.

Only one of these stores existed during my childhood. I remember Toot ‘n Totum as Toot ‘n Totem. But why did today’s “u” in Totum replace yesterday’s “e” in Totem? No idea, but I remember the chain’s ad campaigns : you toot your horn; we’ll tote out to you. 

Amazing what the mind remembers after a half-century!

The next day, we breakfasted at another first.

United Supermarket offers what I dubbed the food quadrifecta (and yes, I made up that latter word: in my dictionary, it means “four of something”).

DH makes his photo debut on RoadBroads. That’s him on the far left, ordering breakfast.

In one building, United offers a stand-alone of these four: grocery store, delicatessen, dine-in restaurant, and a full-service Starbuck’s.

A lifetime traveling the globe and never has this Houstonian seen a combination quite like this.

Departing this place of quick stops and quadrifectas, I realized there’s something to learn in the laughter and the sadness discovered this trip.

It’s called the Circle of Life, when home morphs into hometown.

A place I used to know.

Can You Go Home Again?

NOTEIn this second of a four-post series, I answer the question, “How’s my hometown, 37 years after I abandoned her?” 

I journeyed to the Texas Panhandle to bury my eldest sister.

A sad moment, yes, but an opportunity, too. A chance to cruise old “stomping grounds,” using wizened eyes, peeling away teenaged angst, and replacing memory with meaning and appreciation.

A drive-by to First Home revealed a house I recognized only by outline, shape, and a large front window. At the large trees, I smiled.

From birth through first grade, I learned here to walk, talk, and eat dog food. Future blog post?

From the pinkish-paint to the solid front exterior, everything looked new. Extended carport, enclosed porch. Two sticks: flag pole and yard light.

My family’s decade here — mid-’50s to 1964 — vanished into history. Except those massive trees, adult children of my father’s planting days. I hear fierce hammering as he pounds wood squares tied with twine into backyard dirt still winter-hard.

I drive across town to New House. My eyes squint. This is, once again, a New House. Not ours. 

Second grade to high school graduation, I learned Life in a home and town I couldn’t wait to escape.

A stranger tree guards where our willow once loomed. On the upper lawn, weedy grass covers where pink petals from our mimosa tree fluttered. The garage door holds windows and a stained picket fence graces our wide porch.

My second floor bedroom window is hidden. I take that as a good omen.

I’m two down for Home. Surely, School will be different?

At my first school, Sam Houston Elementary, I spot bare ground. When did this happen? 

I imagine the terrifying teacher of that one year: Esther Ruth Gibson. You may remember my profile of her.

By the tree stood my first grade classroom, a loud, cavernous space filled with strangers.

Mrs. Gibson terrified me. She stood six feet tall (or more) and greeted me the first day of class. I cranked my neck skyward then buried my Size five torso into my mother’s skirt and burst into tears.

The terror of that year lingered in my memories until last year. I found a letter Mrs. Gibson wrote my parents and closed with, “Melanie is a writer.”

Mrs. Gibson knew first. 

This bike rack beats the decrepit mess of steel we had. 

One more elementary school to view: Austin Elementary where I attended grades 2–6.

I recall a playground filled with non-stop action. Swing sets, slides, and a see-saw, plus some kind of whirly-bird contraption.

None remains.

Where do today’s kids play? Or do cell phones and iPads count as recess?

Potholes dot a cracked parking lot, offering metaphor?

One last school stop: Lee Junior High, a name now buried into history and, soon, dust.

I marvel at the unintended symbolism: an abandoned flag pole and a broken handicapped ramp. With potholes for a bonus.

Too delicious for words.

Intentional? Or merely clueless?

I left my hometown with one more question.

Where is Home when your houses and schools vanish?

A Journey Ends…

…as a new one begins.

Details on all that later. For tonight — after 21 hours of driving across three states in two days — I’m home, ready to sleep in my own bed after 17 days and 2703 miles.

A lot of numbers to absorb, eh?

Maybe that’s why I’m e‑x-h-a-u-s-t-e‑d. But, overall, it’s good tired.

Rummaging through Larry McMurtry’s bookstore in Archer City may be key.

To the right here is one corner of one room of one of his treasure-packed stores. All are used books and/or literary classics and collectibles. Imagine looking at row after row of 14-foot high bookcases; pile after pile of reading treasures. Overwhelm rises in your bones. The smell of old books wafts up to your nose and you remember when you first discovered the joy of the written, printed word. Intensity grows, the feelings of overwhelm magnified by more books than you’ve ever seen in one place. Magnify the overwhelm by a factor of ten.

I’m proud of myself — I left Larry’s place with only four books.

That’s because this was my fourth bookstore in four days. My car already has two bulging sacks of books awaiting my reading delight. Such joy, however, can only be indulged after unpacking, laundry, groceries, errands, phone calls and everything else I walked away from last month.

Why does May seem like two years ago now? Why does my recently-finished writing retreat feel like an alternate universe?

Alas, tough questions and mixed-up senses for a late night. Meanwhile, my bed beckons. I anticipate a wonderful night of sleep on the one mattress that knows all my body’s nooks and crannies.

Tomorrow, one last look at my recent past with a preview of my blogging future.

Tonight marks my shortest RoadBroad post. You understand why?