Thoughts on Small Towns

While in Texas, I’ve visited towns that I visited when I was a young girl. It’s amazing how vibrant they seemed back then and how depressed they seem now. The economy of certain regions of Texas has emptied a lot of the little towns that I remember. Empty store fronts surround the courthouse squares. Fading paint and unkempt lawns are everywhere.
The happiest years of my childhood were spent near Paducah, Texas where we lived for four years. Back in the day, the store fronts around the courthouse square were full: the five-and-dime store, a drug store where we used to go to buy limeades, a clothing store, a bank, and all the other little stores that make a town complete. On one side of the square were the Blacks-only theater and stores — a sign of the times I grew up in. A block off the square was the Piggly Wiggly and a little hamburger joint with a walk-up window. On the edge of town was a cotton gin mill, by the side of the railroad tracks. During harvest, the smoke and dust in the air hung over the town like a very thick fog.
On Saturday nights, cars would line the square as country people drove into town. They sat in their cars to watch people go by. If they saw someone they knew, they’d get out and visit on the sidewalk. Simple small town entertainment.
A few years ago, we went back to visit and I’m sorry I did. Most of the stores around the courthouse square were abandoned and boarded up. None of my favorite spots was left intact. Neglect was everywhere. We drove by my elementary school, Alamo Elementary. The front of the building was shaped like the Alamo and I loved that. I remember standing in line for the bus out front and listening to a boy chant, “What do you get when you dip Goldwater in ink? Blackwater.” I didn’t understand it then and I’m not sure I understand it now, other than President Johnson won by a landslide over Goldwater. The boy was probably reciting something he heard at home.
As we drove by the Alamo school a few years ago, it made me cry. The school’s roof had caved in and one wall was blown out. We drove around back by the rock wall that lined the playground. It was crumbling and I could see the auditorium where I was in the Christmas play and we had assemblies every Wednesday afternoon so we could sing the Star-Spangled Banner and Texas Our Texas.
So it is with many of the little towns of my childhood. I wished we hadn’t gone by. I like my memories of the place better. I prefer to think of them when they were alive and thriving.

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