Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Small Town Living
I've spent a lot of time in the last few weeks thinking about where I come from. I think that most of the people in our daily lives think I am telling some pretty tall tales when I talk about the simple way that I grew up.
We had a reunion this weekend for the kids that finished 8th grade in Manvel. A lot of folks thought it was strange that one might have a junior high reunion. We sure didn't. As a matter of fact, most of us felt like the junior high reunion was far more important that the high school reunion.
When my parents moved to our small Texas town in the 60s, the population was barely over 100. When we finished 8th grade, there were 125 of us and the population of our town was over 3,000. When I finished 8th grade, there were 33 of us kids that had been together since the early 70's and our first day of kindergarten. Our town was so small that there wasn't a high school. So when we finished 8th grade, we were bused into Alvin to attend the big high school. It was pretty darn scary, to say the least.
We talked a lot this weekend about how being from such a small town makes us bonded for life. Quite a few of my childhood friends still live in the area. A lot of our parents are still there. And even though our little town is now getting sucked in by Houston, I still get that same feeling of freedom when I drive down those county roads.
We laughed at the innocence of our childhood. I didn't know about brand name clothes until I went to high school. As a young child, a fair amount of my clothes were handmade and it wasn't uncommon for me to have a matching dress with my mom or with my across the street neighbor.
I never really had fast food or a frozen dinner until I was a young adult. And I can barely remember my parent's ever buying meat at the store. You see, we raised our meat. Our pet cows eventually ended up on our plates. I have vivid memories of my grandmother wringing the neck of a chicken and me and my brother sitting around a wash tub of hot water plucking the feathers. I spent hours and hours and hours working in the garden with my Nanny. My Nanny and Pop had the biggest garden you have ever seen and they could grow anything! Lots of years, my brother and I would cut the okra and sell it for my grandparents. One summer, my grandparents let us keep the money and we bought our very first VCR. (Mind you, I was already in high school at the time.) I can remember like it was yesterday my mom, my aunts and my Nanny sitting under the tree snapping peas. We would also sit with metal bowls between our legs and snap peas while we were watching TV.
And we fished and fished and fished. We'd put in on Chocolate Bayou and go out into the bay. In the water before the sun was up. We'd be eating Vienna Sausages and Potted Meat while we waited to catch our feast for that night. It wasn't unusual for my Pop to catch a ton of fish and share. He'd give some to the preacher. And the fish that he didn't like to eat, he'd give to the Mexican family that lived down the road.
I laughed with old friends today about our book mobile. When we were kids, we didn't have a library so the book mobile bus would come to our town twice a month. We'd all line up outside and wait our turn to go in. My kids will never ever believe that we checked out books from an old bus.
Manvel has always been a one stop light town - until recently, that is. When we were growing up there was no grocery store. We had to go to 'town' (Alvin) if we needed to get something. We didn't have a doctor or a dentist, those visits were also trips into town.
Looking back though, I think I now understand what makes that time and those memories so special. It was the innocence of it all. It was parents that cared about their kids and weren't afraid to spank them if they did something wrong. It was people that were in the church every time the doors were open, even if it meant you were gonna take a nap while you were there. There were no strangers in our town. We all took care of each other. If you got into a squabble with your friend on the playground, well - you just had to get over it because there weren't a whole lot of other kids to play with.
And I am not at all implying that everyone grew up in a perfect home either. But we were raised supporting and loving each other no matter what was happening behind the four walls when you got home.
Another way that we were fortunate is that we were close enough to the city and close enough to the ocean. Like many of my friends, my dad worked in Houston and made the drive daily. And also like many of my friends, we were very lucky because we got to go to the beach on a regular basis. I can still sometimes smell the ocean in the air on a hot summer night. There are times that I long to be by the ocean with my eyes closed remembering those times.
I am also very surprised at how many people I know from Manvel and Alvin have gotten married and stayed married. I've decided that at some point I'm going to write a book about it. I can probably name 35 couples in our age group that married someone from our hometowns and are still married. What is it that makes it work? There is something to it, I've just got to figure out what it is.
I think it is hard for folks to believe that something can be so special. I also think that growing up the way we did is mostly a thing of the past. I know though that the way my friends and I grew up is part of what makes America the strong country that it is now. And I hope that Jeff and I can pass some part of the gift of our small hometowns down to our kids.
at 12:09 AM