“Yeah, this is my town, Where I was born, Where I was raised, Where I keep all my yesterdays.” —”My Town” song lyrics by Montgomery Gentry
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Last Saturday was a my-town, small-town kind of day listening to friends Dickie Gilchrist, Billy Neal, and Billy Paddy recount stories from their Center school days. You know, stories where guys who grew up “back when we did” identify memories by who drove what car, who dated whom, and the adventures that ensued from both. Stories that start with, “Do you remember …” and the follow up is something like “You know, he drove that red-and-white Ford convertible?”
The event that brought us together Saturday was another small-town trademark, a community festival. The East Texas Poultry festival in Center, the Sassafras Festival in San Augustine, the Syrup Festival in Henderson, and the list goes on and on. Festivals that celebrate whatever is considered to be a small town’s claim to fame. We were at the Poultry Festival for two reasons, well three. The fun and the car show for sure, but let’s not forget the food. The stories I listened to about growing up in Center reminded me of similar experiences in Mount Pleasant. Only the names of the innocent (and sometimes the guilty) differed.
I’m a small-town guy. Sure, I like big-city shopping and entertainment, but I prefer sneaking into the city to enjoy those amenities, then escaping back to my small-town home. Hometown for me is technically Mount Pleasant, Texas, where I graduated from high school. Following college, opportunities and chasing dreams led me to other places, the last one being Center which quickly took on the feel of my hometown community. After this many years, I guess you might say I am lucky enough to have two hometowns.
Knowing your neighbors, their accomplishments and challenges by visiting across the back fence or by reading the local newspaper is another characteristic of a small town. There’s also something to be said for small towns when it comes to community influences outside of the home, which for me the single most important might have been law-enforcement officials.
Luckily, my “rap sheet” was short and by comparison, mostly innocent. Other than tickets for speeding, excessive noise, and improper start from a parked position (isn’t that the greatest definition of a burnout ever coined) accumulated by a kid growing up with fast cars, there was a time or two when the handling of an errant teenager by an officer of the law made a difference, a lesson they never forgot.
Like the night seeking adventure with some friends in my ’55 Chevy took a turn for potential disaster when someone who had already over imbibed in adult beverages decided to share with us. It took all of 15 minutes for a local officer to pull me over and discover he had a carload of high school boys with strong drink.
As I was fearing the worst, the officer looked at my driver’s license and said, “I know your father. He works at Perry Brothers. Do you think he would be very proud of you if he were here right now?” That was a no brainer. “No sir, I don’t think so.” After confiscating the beverages, he said, “I know where you live on Redbud Street. I’m going to drive by your house in 15 minutes and if your car is not in the driveway, I’m going to ring the doorbell and your father and I will have a conversation.”
Barely avoiding another improper start from a parked position, I allowed all but one of my friends to jump out at their house while still rolling. The unfortunate one had to walk a couple of blocks because I was out of time and not risking that conversation.
Granted, these are different times in which we live and raise children. But for having grown up in one small town and having lived most of my life in another, I wouldn’t want to keep my yesterdays anywhere else.
(East Texas Poultry Festival drone photo at top of the page
by Buster Bounds, Center, Texas.)
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