I was so overwhelmed with a feeling today that I posted it on Facebook:
I love it when I have been somewhere – San Antonio and Austin particularly – and as I am coming back, suddenly the land flattens out, the freeway widens out, the sky gets bigger, the traffic goes faster, and I know I'm home. Hello, Houston.
I’d say that was an original idea, but I’d be lying.
Mother had a bit of a rough time growing up. Their family didn’t do well during the Great Depression (I’ll tell that at some point, I’ve touched on it before). When she and Dad moved to Dallas in 1948, in her mind she had “arrived”, had shed that small town (Malvern) for the rest of her life. She really didn’t even want to go back for visits, but (1) they were broke and (2) Dad wanted to see his parents (Mother always wanted to see her family too—that usually lasted about 2 hours….); so, back to Malvern we went. I thought it wonderful; I spent the summers there, doted upon by grandparents, getting into mild trouble with my cousins and friends (it is very hard to explain to the State Trooper, who happens to be a cousin as well, how it is that you and a whole bunch of your—also underage—friends are piled into a 1962 Impala Sport Sedan, rocketing down “Number Nine” (Ark. State Hwy 9) with a whole trunk full of beer….).
Mother was not a fan of her birthplace. Let’s just say she had a love/hate relationship with it.
So, we’d go to Arkansas; her family would get into the inevitable argument (which we would discuss in detail at least to Texarkana), Dad’s mother would wear herself all the way out putting 3 feasts (“meal” does not do them justice) on the table per day while we were there; besides, we were noisy and messy and it frayed her nerves. She and Gramp always stood in the carport as we backed out of the driveway, and she inevitably started crying (even though she was probably glad we were leaving).
It was an onerous trip on US 67. East Texas Motor Freight. They’d plod along at 35 mph (in a 60 zone) and there’d be a huge line of cars waiting to pass. Dad would floor that 348 V8 and whip out to pass; Mother would bite her lip till it bled trying not to scream. Me, my sister, and Grandmother (Mother’s mother lived with us) in the back seat, along with whatever dog collection we had at the time. 8 hours. No a/c.
Once IH 30 opened up and cars started having a/c (our 63 Impala wagon was the first; pretty luxurious—a/c, power windows, all the trimmings), Dad would rocket along at a comfortable 80 mph (speed limit in Arkansas then: 75).
The Arkansas Highway Department and the Texas Highway Department took slightly different approaches to Interstate construction. Arkansas’ were skinny, with a narrow median that occasionally flared with hills and tall pine trees. Texas went with a very wide approach, and Texas had “Frontage Roads”. Arkansas had some, occasionally, but much of the time, you’d travel down a tunnel of tall pine trees on the narrow interstate lanes. You still do.
When we’d hit the State Line at Texarkana (before Texarkana moved out to the interstate, there wasn’t much there), as Mother told me many times, “the road widens out and the trees are cut way back and you can BREATHE.” Always claustrophobic, my mother. (and the older I get, the more like her I am)
So now, every time I go to San Antonio or Austin, driving through the ugly Texas prairie, rolling hills, heavy traffic on overburdened 4-lane interstates designed for 1955—suddenly, at Brookshire, Texas, the topography changes. That rolling prairie give way to the flat Gulf Coastal plain. The sky becomes larger. The little white puffy clouds (of which I’m so fond) appear. Then, at Peach Orchard Road, the freeway opens up and becomes the Katy Freeway. It widens out, the feeder roads recede, the sky becomes bigger, the traffic faster—and I’m back in Houston.
For many years, I called Malvern “home”. I started my life in Dallas; we moved to Corpus Christi, Ft. Worth, then San Antonio for Dad’s job, moving at least twice in each city. Poor old Dad would get about (maybe) 2 weeks notice he was being transferred. He’d get a per diem to go to the new city and find housing. Dad’s taste could never keep up with Mother’s. He usually worked somewhere near either the USAF base or the airport (depending). He was a jet aircraft engineer, so he worked around—jet engines. So, knowing not much about wherever it was he was going, he’d find the base or the airport, then find a house as close as he could get, so as not to fight the traffic. He never could (and can’t) gauge neighborhoods. At one place, we drove up, and all Mother could manage was, “Oh, HONEY!” My sister, grandmother and I were saying, “surely not”. “What’s wrong with it?” “It’s a DUMP! in a CRAPPY NEIGHBORHOOD!” etc. So, we would immediately look for somewhere nicer to move—and move there. Sometimes twice.
The whole family loved Corpus Christi—except me. I had to get two shots (big needles) in each arm (that’s 4) each WEEK for allergies. Everybody loved beachcombing, looking for shells. Not me. I do love the Gulf (now), but I still have no desire to beachcomb. Walk down the Seawall at Galveston? You bet! Lounge on the beach in a chair under an umbrella? Let’s go NOW. Beachcomb? Forget it.
We moved to Ft. Worth, my allergies subsided, I made some great friends. I loved (and still do) the Metroplex. I loved our house in Ft. Worth (classy! great neighborhood!), loved my friends, my schools, etc.
Then we had one of those two-week wonders and moved to San Antonio. Dad couldn’t help it, he HAD to go, but I blamed him for it for years.
I HATED San Antonio. DESPISED IT. Many people have the time of their lives in high school I HATED IT. Huge school where I knew NO ONE (back in Ft. Worth, my friends were having a blast, we wrote letters (prehistoric email). I didn’t like the culture at the school (lots of drugs, lots of thugs, lots of taunting because I was (a closeted) gay; bars on the windows; locker searches (forced); patrols in the halls. Smorgasbord of races. This was the early 70’s and they all hated each other, but they all especially hated WHITES (I can’t help the color of my skin). Different bathrooms controlled by different groups; there was the black bathroom, the hispanic bathroom, the asian bathroom, the druggie bathroom, the “kicker” (now “redneck”) bathroom—I had ONE bathroom on the huge campus I could use without fear or without having my money extorted, and it was far out of the way. So I held it a lot.
I had lots of friends at church, sang in the choir, but always felt like a fraud. I was just in it for the friends (and we did have a great time). I’m still friends with many of those people. The fact that I made friends with them, however, did not alleviate the hell of high school.
So when I left San Antonio for college, I never looked back.
And you know? I STILL don’t like it. It’s very quaint and touristy, all right, and yes, there are some heavenly mexican restaurants. That’s about all it’s got going for it. I really dislike the town.
I never liked Austin. While living with liberals would be refreshing, Austin has that smug “hipster” attitude shared with its sister cities Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. I don’t like that, either.
Plus, both cities are shot-through with mesquite trees. I am deathly allergic go mesquite pollen.
Malvern, Arkansas was my home for 15 years, but it’s dead to me now. There’s nothing there of my family, friends, or anything I remember. It’s a ruin. It’s not the same. It’s no longer “home”.
My other “home” is Fayetteville, Arkansas, but I’ve never lived there and may never. But, it’s the Home of the Razorbacks and therefore, home for me.
So, to bring this long rant nobody will read to a close—when I’ve been forced to go to San Antonio or Austin, and get to Brookshire, and the land flattens out, and the freeway widens out, and the sky gets bigger, and the traffic speeds up—I’m home.