There’re a lot of towns with strange, geographically inexplicable names here in Texas. There’s also innumerable churches, cathedrals, mosques and religious meeting places on pretty much every street corner, no matter what part you happen to find yourself in. I’m not religious in any of the ways that really matter, but I can respect and admire the beauty of these buildings and what they mean to those who visit. In a small town like this, less than 2 square miles total and easily missed, with a population of less than 1000, it’s easy to understand how you could find 2 churches within a stones throw of each other.
We quietly rolled down the loose gravel roads, the rocks ping ping pinging off the cars underside and disturbing the deep settled stillness and calm of the streets. There weren’t any people to be seen, bikes laid down on the grass outside of houses and birds chirping on chipping white picket fences. We pulled up to a church under construction, tools left in the grass and piled on the sidewalk. That kind of trust is hard to find in bigger cities, and while there was a slightly grumpy dog tied to the yard next door, he was more sleepy than guarding and while eventually he got a big suspicious of our idling car, it was nice to be allowed to linger without purpose in front of that church and imagine what it might look like some day.
I’ve taken a bit of a break from my art journal these past 2 weeks (wow, wait really? I just realized it’s literally been 2 weeks since I’ve picked it up…alright then ), not because of anything really just… the usual February slump that comes around this time of year, always. I think it hits me a little worse than most people, that feeling of “jeez, this new year is really not going how I wanted it to…” because right after February comes to a close, I turn a year older. Not that I hate my birthday, it’s just that extra mark down in the years that you thought you’d have done certain things by this point (like get that tattoo, see Norwegian peaks or eat a whole box of Cap’t Crunch in one sitting) .
Also, I spent the last two weeks listening to Nick Drake on and off again and let me tell you, if you don’t feel at least slightly maudlin before, you’ll be more than halfway there after a couple of tracks. It’s a loveliness that wraps itself in tender tendrils that can be very hard to escape.
I decided to kick myself at least partially out of this slight slump though, by spending a sunny winter Sunday afternoon with my father, digging our hands into moist soil and repotting some flowers I had bought. I wanted a little more life inside my apartment and making that extra time before I leave for work to make sure the sun has a chance to fall on some buds, as well as checking in on them while I sketch at night, it’s been a kinda wonderful sort of thing. So i’m battling it out with the rest of this month, and while i’m sure i’ll get to March with some bumps and bruises, as long as I get there, it’s all good.
There was an American flag on almost every street corner. Trucks rattled by towards the fields that seem to engulf this sparse town of less than 2,000 and the smell of diesel and cheap beer floated on the warm breeze while the hot sun beat down down down onto cracked sidewalks and empty streets. The taste of USA felt so strong here, from the way the dogs barked from behind chain link backyard fences to the parked police car next to the pizza place, the lone passenger in the drivers seat reclined for a nap in the afternoon heat.
Save Us All, the graffitti proclaimed up above the furniture store and I wondered who had ventured up to the structure to spray those words for all to see. Save you from what, I idly wondered, god being around the corner on every street here in these small towns. . Graffiti is possibly endemic here, with so many wide open walls just waiting to be sprayed with messages for gods both here or not, and underneath their fresh layers of white, I could see remnants of previous messages just waiting to be recovered on many walls.
Residing in Hunt county, with an estimated 459 housholds as of the 2000 census, you can’t help but wonder at the life here. There is beauty, the colors red-white-blue popping out from everywhere, and the little houses that sprawl out from the town center are filled with thriving gardens that clearly showcase a special kind of quiet resilience that isn’t easily found in modern suburbia. Between Greenville and Royce City, it’s bypassed by the highway that connects both and as such, it’s easily missed unless you aim for it by placing your life in the hands of any of the small farm roads that connect it to main civilization. Or, I guess if you wanted to, you could fly in, as they somehow have their own municipal airport. Don’t say these places can’t surprise you.
I have wandered the mad streets of NYC, the crooked cow paths of Boston, sprawled down the gravity defying hills of San Francisco, and chased friends down countless carefully cultivated suburbs… but, this tiny little town in the middle of East Texas Nowhere, it had the most beautiful back alley i’ve ever come across.
I wandered into this town after my jaunt in Farmersville , parking the car in the slightly shady lot of a discount dollar store that had mustachioed guys hanging out of huge trucks with badly drawn tattoos lining their slightly greased up arms. The dust swirled in the warm air from passing trucks and I wondered if maybe this would be a bust, if perhaps I shouldn’t get back in the car and keep going elsewhere. I also wondered, after wandering down this back alley with glittering broken glass scattered here and there in the brilliantly green grass, if maybe this would also be the town I finally got a shotgun to the face for mistakenly trespassing onto private property. (This is more common than you would think…..the mistaken jaunt onto private property I mean, not the shotgun. Although, shotguns ARE very common here of course)
Thankfully, I found only hidden gems of light and lushness, and not a one shotgun to be seen. I know it would be easy to see this place as something ugly, to turn the lens a different way, to use a different filter and write at length about the decay of these small almost-no-name towns and the problems that plague them at length but…it can be JUST as easy, if you have the mind for it, to turn your eyes into multi-layered viewers and appreciate the life thriving here. I don’t seek to romanticize small town life, but I also don’t find joy in tearing it down. I just want to be able to see the beauty that surrounds me, anywhere I find myself.