Wednesday, March 02, 2005

independence day

Today is Texas Independence Day. Outside of Texas that probably means little ... and outside of some tradition at the University of Texas at Austin where they fire a cannon, few Texans will stop and celebrate or commemorate the day.

It's a little factoid that sticks in your brain. March 2 is Texas Independence Day. Texas has a few other state holidays that are peculiar to the state -- LBJ's birthday (some day in August), some confederate soldier's day, and Juneteenth, the day that Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was brought ashore at Galveston (June 19th) a year or two later. Juneteenth is now celebrated outside of Texas, but it was for many years a Texas event particularly among African Americans.

I grew up on the dark clay soils of South Waco, in fields where farmers grew cotton and other crops for many years. After World War II, wooden houses were built on those fields, and through the generosity of the federal government, returning soldiers got loans from local savings and loans associations, and settled down in those houses while they worked in local factories and raised their families. Up the hill and over a few blocks was our elementary school built on the edge of what were for many years tilled fields.

In summer, the steady heat baked the clay soils, making deep cracks in the soil. As a child, I used to poke a stick in them to see how deep the cracks went, and often could not find the bottom. Those wooden houses built on this soil suffered from the cracks. I am not sure that any house in our neighborhood mangaged to have walls without the drywall showing some crinkled line caused by shifting, cracking clay underneath the house. Look above a window or a door and you would see the meandering crack in the wall.

We had quite large cottonwood trees in our yard. And a mimosa tree in the backyard. Both put out a pollen that made them a bit messy.

My father is buried in a cemetery east of Waco in that hard soil. As are his parents and his brother. And his aunt. And my mother's parents. They're all in the same cemetery. When I visit or stop while passing through Waco, I try to go to the cemetery. And I am reminded of what Sundays were like when I was a child when after church we drove across the Brazos River to the small suburb of Bellmead and visited one set of grandparents and then the other.

Like any visitor to a cemetery, my conversations are one-sided. I hear their voices in my head. I remember them, my dead family members. I look at the live oaks and the hard soils and fairly quickly lapse into silence and memories.

It's been over 20 years since I lived in Waco, and ten years since I lived in Texas. My memories are not full of vibrant color, because the Texas of my memory is of the faded colors of live oak trees with their small leathery leaves and thick, gnarly limbs hovering wide and close to the ground, as much a horizontal shape than a vertical one and empty grassy fields. The small rolling prairie hills of my part of Central Texas, the thin-soiled rockier portions around Austin and to its west, the Hill Country, are all etched in my head as home. Browns and faded green. And the expansive sky. Large sunsets.

In Bellmead, my great aunts told stories on those Sunday gatherings in the living room. The men played dominoes in the kitchen on an aluminum table. The men rarely talked the way the women did. The men made jokes, broken up by the hard sound of the dominoes being shuffled. The women, on the other hand, told stories, long complicated stories about people and relatives that kids rarely knew, about divorces and moves to California and the war and troubles and hopes.

I wish I had copied some of those stories down, but perhaps it was not the stories themselves that I enjoyed, but the pattern and sound of their voices, their commentary on what had happened to some unknown relative, and the overall connection with each other.

Air conditioning made Texas livable for other people. And jet airplanes made getting in and out of Texas much easier. That was probably when Texas quit being another country and joined finally the United States. History says that happened in 1845, but I think it was after 1970. Texas went from backwater state to a superstate in the 1970s to being just another state.

Those empty fields along Interstate 35 are full now, especially around Austin and San Antonio. Dallas-Fort Worth is all of North Texas.


bill said...

Sorry to say that I forgot what day it was until I started wondering why traffic was so light on my daily commute. There used to be so many reminders of this.

I have similar memories of my Texas childhood. I recently buried my own mother and father in a little cemetery on the prairie just down Highway 31 from Waco. All of my grandparents are in the same cemetery, as are uncles and aunts, cousins and one set of great-grandparents.

lemming said...

As a good Yankee, I didn't know that today was the day, thank you.

None of my immidiate family have been buried, While cremation meant that we could leave their mortal remains in a place special to them, I wish for a place such as you describe.

Anonymous said...

I always remember because it's also my husband's birthday. In dual celebration, we drove to the coast this weekend and visited the Battleship Texas, the San Jacinto Monument, and Galveston island.

Weekend tripOur house is one of those with deep cracks. We patch them. The weather changes. More cracks.

M. Stevens
Zanthan Gardens

Don said...

Bill -- Alas I cannot remember what towns lay along Highway 31. Is that towards Marlin? It's been too long.

Lemming -- I like the idea of ashes to ashes. Of course, all our family funerals are open casket. Is that a southern thing?

M. Sinclair -- I remember visiting the San Jacinto monument when I was in the 6th grade. It's hard to believe that it is located amid a field of refineries.

Hope that your garden is growing well!

avril said...

Since I moved away from my home state of Texas when I was ten, I don't think that much about it anymore until someone reminds me about the distinctive elements of that state that make it, well, Texas. My mother is also a native Texan and cooks Tex Mex every March 2 to celebrate Texas Independence Day and her divorce from her first husband. My childhood memories of being young in the hill country around Austin always arise in the spring, however, when I think about walking in fields with my mother looking for fossils, Indian paintbrush, winecups and bluebonnets. I recently found an old oil painting in a thrift shop of a field of bluebonnets that I bought to remind me of my roots. Now, Don, do you know all the words to The Ballad of the Alamo and Texas, My Texas?

Don said...

avril -- No, I must say that I would even have to hum on some parts of Texas, Our Texas and Cross the Brazos at Waco.