Whenever I drive back to Texas, the minute I hit the border from New Mexico, a calm settles over me. Not that West Texas is my home, but still, I can see the big open sky and the flat plains and I hear that West Texas closed-mouth drawl when I stop for gas. These signal the start of the feeling that I am back home.
By the time, I get to Wichita Falls, the terrain is shifting and the rolling plains of North Central Texas come into view. At that point, I start to breathe deeper. The fields are dotted with cattle and horses and fences that separate the ranches. I see barns and hay and tractors and I am moving closer to my roots.
After Gainesville, the hills start. Not big ones, but small lifts that break up that endless horizon. There are more trees, too, and gullies and creeks that make the leaves greener on the nearby vegetation. I begin to see combines in the fields and cattle trailers filled with livestock headed to auction and I know that life as I knew it fifty years ago isn’t all that different today. Of course, there are cowboys talking on cell phones as I pass their pickups, but they are still wearing their cowboy hats and nod a friendly hello.
I have a home in Sherman, thirty miles east of Gainesville. My husband and I have lived in that area on and off for the last thirty-five years. That is familiar territory for sure and I am always happy to drive up to our two-story Victorian with the lights glowing through the lace curtains on the living room windows. Aw, what a feeling.
But it’s when I make that twenty-five mile trek from Sherman to Bonham on Highway 56 that I feel as if I’ve never grown up and moved off to California. That is the same stretch of road that I traveled endless times as a kid and a teenager, coming to the big town of Sherman from my little town of 7,000. That road holds the secret of a trip with my high school boyfriend to go look for wedding rings when I was seventeen. Rings we never bought, but surely did dream about buying. That road is the same that I drove to see my best friend’s father at the hospital when he was diagnosed with the disease that would kill him while she was still in high school. That was the road where at least two of my friends died in car accidents in our teenage years.
Even with those memories, not all happy ones, I still love that stretch of highway. It connects my present to my past and pulls me closer to a time when I was surrounded with people I loved on a daily basis, my family and my friends.
I drive through our little town now and I see it how it was in the 1950’s, 60’s and early 70’s when I was there. I note the changes, but superimpose my own memories of people, places and events onto the current landscape.
I love California and feel a different set of feelings connected to there, but North Central Texas will always be my home. That is where I first sat in my Daddy’s lap when he let me steer the car at three or four years old, held my mother’s hand in Holy Trinity Episcopal church on Star Street, and had my first high school kiss on a country back road.
Home is where the heart is as they say and that is certainly true. Home is where the memories are, as well.
I feel happy that I have such a deep connection to the land in Texas. I feel grounded by that connection; it continues to serve me well.