My early childhood was spent in a dustbowl just this side of the Permian Basin, the way-out-west that occupies Texas just before the mountains that edge the Lone Star State. We moved to Louisiana from Sweetwater, Texas when I was eight years old. Aside from one or two childhood vacations to visit family, I would not return until shortly after my wedding, when Dom and I went to Merkel so he could meet my grandpa. My next trip west would be eight years later to attend my grandpa’s funeral.
I think often of my last Texas residence. The memories loom larger than life: the tree in our front yard that I climbed regularly, whether it was a mimosa or just the tree planted next to a mimosa, my goal was always to pick those fluffy pink flowers; the cinder-block fence of our backyard where my dad, grandfather and uncle would stage fireworks displays; the kindergarten classroom with the colorful shapes in the center of each table to match our nametags so we would know where we belonged. I recall with amazing clarity the day I returned from the restroom and insisted I belonged at the blue triangle table. The blonde-haired boy who occupied my seat looked up at me like I’d escaped from an institution. Seconds later, the teacher was placing her hands gently on my shoulders to steer me away as I looked down at my own nametag and saw – to my horror! – an orange triangle. I can see my dad’s eighteen-wheeler parked along the curb in front of our house, the running rabbit plate on the front bumper and his CB handle, “Ramrod,” painted on the side of the blue cab. I remember the sound of him rattling chains and tie downs, and the smell of tar from a load he was hauling. (I also remember how fun it was to peel the dried tar droplets off the street, roll them into balls and manipulate them like modeling clay. Probably explains that twitch I have now. Kidding…) I remember selling painted rocks to all our elderly neighbors, and mom escorting me back up the street an hour later to return everyone’s money. I remember using tumbleweeds as kick-balls and horned-toads as pets-of-the-day. I remember sand storms in the sky and those awful stickers in the yard. Trust me, in West Texas barefoot is not an option.
My parents and I returned to the area I most remember on the way to my uncle’s funeral this past week. Just before Midland we stopped in Sweetwater and revisited our haunts from days gone by. From the old drive-in to Nine Mile Mountain, I learned more than I knew before about the era in which my parents met. What follows is a pictorial narrative of our trip down Memory Lane.
This first pic does not belong in Memory Lane, necessarily, but all the windmills in west Texas are an intriguing sight. Windmill blades grace the entrances to the town.
The house where my mom grew up. I think this is also where she got in trouble for standing on the curb and talking to my dad as he sat in his idling car.
My grandparents’ house, where we lived while they were living in Alaska. I was heartbroken to see the once brown house now painted pink and the front porch bricked in. And I would have loved to sneak back toward the garage and snap a photo of our footprints and names in the cement, but I’m not much into trespassing.
The Brookshire’s used to be The Village grocery store. Or was The Village the entire shopping center? There may have been a Piggly Wiggly somewhere in here too. I just remember the big V in the sky, and caught myself wishing for just a moment that I could bring it home to Victoria.
The old drive-in theater – this is the back of the movie screen. I think I rode with my parents here to watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Being that I was so young and impressionable, they told me all the red stuff in the movie was tomato juice. I still associate the title to that movie with V8.
Nine Mile Mountain is a mountain nine miles out of Sweetwater. Genius. Mom said from the top of the mountain you could see the whole town. Also at the top is the Double Heart Ranch, which my parents seemed to know, um, by heart.
The old town has certainly changed, and then in some ways it hasn’t. Our reason for traveling west was sad, our visit to a town much smaller than our memories of it was bittersweet. But we did get a chance to visit with some of mom and dad’s friends from high school, and I got treated to all kinds of legendary stories. All in all, it was nice to chase those tumbleweeds for a while.