“Towns change; they grow or diminish, but hometowns remain as we left them.”
~Jayne Anne Phillips
For me, the above picture says it all. It is a visual representation of what the word “hometown” means to me. This was taken in May during our annual Nac Girls (’81) trip. The picture is of eleven friends (with several who were unable to attend this year, but were there in spirit). Most of us have been friends for well over half a century! (Not sure if that sounds better than just saying over fifty years).
The photo represents the families from which we came, and the family we formed after years of school, and friendship, and memories.
The photo is also a tribute to the place that grew us. Nacogdoches, Texas. Our hometown.
Hometowns: Springsteen, Miranda Lambert, and Josh Turner sing songs about them, and Andy Rooney stated this about them:
“There’s nothing people like better than being asked an easy question. For some reason, we’re flattered when a stranger asks us where Maple Street is in our hometown and we can tell him.”
There’s even a show on HGTV entitled “Hometown,” which I’ve been binge watching for the last several months. I was even inspired by Erin Napier to cut my hair short and wear a headband. I’ve since realized that she’s in her thirties and cute as a button, and maybe that style isn’t something I can pull off. BUT, I absolutely adore Erin and Ben and what they are doing in their hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, as well as in a small town in Alabama.
Hometowns—-they get it.
This summer, we have started a new routine. Every Sunday, my husband and I drive to Nacogdoches and visit my mother. We drop her off at Sunday School, and while she’s there, we go to the grocery store for her. After gathering the needed items, we return to her house, put the groceries up, and then meet her for church.
After the church service, we go out to eat, with the Fredonia Hotel being the usual choice.
With these Sunday meetings, as well as a few other times during the week when we’ve gone to the bank or the doctor, I have been running into people I’ve known my whole life, as well as others whom I’ve just met. And in most of these meetings, four things have usually been stated:
- Your mother was the best teacher I’ve ever had—-probably the best government teacher in the state
- Your father was such a good man
- We loved working with your brother at the Bank—he’s a great guy, and so funny!
- You’re the one who wrote the books (usually referencing the book Creek to Creek which is about hometown hero Charles Bright, or Mockingbird Moments, the memoir about my father)
No matter which of these is stated, I am filled with pride, and joy, and a whole lot of humility. I’ve realized that it’s within these statements where my hometown legacy lies. My family. My friends. My faith.
It’s comforting going back to my hometown. No matter how old I get, I’m still remembered as the daughter of Charles and Claudette Brown, the younger sister of Greg, a former NHS cheerleader, and a wanna-be-writer.
And after a conversation a couple of weeks ago, I might even be remembered as a top recruiter for A&M football.
It happened after church while we were finishing up our meal at the Fredonia Hotel. My mom recognized a man as he entered the restaurant—-someone who worked with my dad thirty years ago. As a side note, I need to state that my mother was able to see this man because she faced the entrance of the First City Cafe (formal name of the dining area at the hotel).
You are probably wondering why I mentioned this seemingly insignificant tidbit…
Whenever we eat out with my mom, she always likes to face the entrance of the establishment. She credits this to “Wild Bill Hickok Syndrome,” named after the famous gambler, lawman, and gunfighter who met his untimely demise by being shot in the back of the head during a poker game. I understand that my mother doesn’t have a fear of the same scenario happening to her, but she doesn’t like to have her back to the door. Ever.
On this certain Sunday, when we all sat down, Brian and I were unthinkingly facing the door. The waitress took our drink order, and Brian excused himself to the restroom, and it was then that Mom said, “I don’t like having my back to the door,” and of course ended by citing that she suffers from Wild Bill Hickok syndrome.
It was a rookie mistake. I should have been more thoughtful in the seating arrangement. I immediately switched places with my mother, and in our game of musical chairs, confused both Brian and the waitress when they returned to the table. To clear up the confusion, I mouthed to Brian, “Wild Bill Hickok Syndrome.”
So now that I’ve meandered all over the place, I’ll return to the anecdote I intended to share many words ago…
Since my mother was facing the door, she spotted a man who worked with my dad at SFA. She mentioned something about it, and for some reason I thought she was talking about someone she had seen at church, until the man and his wife came over to our table on their way out.
After hearing the words I never tire of, that my father was such a good man and has been missed greatly over the years, the conversation shifted to Aggie football. You see, this man and my dad attended Aggie games together when my mother wasn’t able to go.
We talked about Jimbo, and the upcoming season, and then my mother piped in and said, “Sharon met Jimbo Fisher when he was recruiting a young man from the school where she works.” That part is true.
But then, the story took an unexpected turn and made me wonder if I embellished the story when I shared it with my mother, if it was simply interpreted in a different way, or if it had become the stuff of tall tales and legends.
I managed to sit quietly, without interruption, (but with a few side glances and smirks to Brian), as my mother hailed the fact that the school wanted an Aggie to be there to meet Jimbo, and that I was the biggest Aggie they knew, so they called me on my day off and asked me to come up as quickly as possible to greet Jimbo. As if I was an integral part in sealing the deal…
Many parts of the story are true. I was called to come up, mainly because I had given strict instructions to my husband and friend that if they knew he was going to be there, they’d better let me know! It is also true that I might be one of the biggest (most obnoxious) Aggies in the district.
I was called at the last minute, and since it was my day off, (I work part-time as an elementary school counselor) I hadn’t bothered to fix my hair or put on makeup. I was told I had 15 minutes to get there (and that’s how long it takes to drive to the school from my house). Of course, I had to dress in Aggie gear, so wearing a ball cap wasn’t simply because my hair was completely out of control.
I slathered on a bit of makeup, and did dangerously apply more on the drive to meet Jimbo. I know. That’s something I hate to admit.
I arrived safely and was able to visit with Coach Fisher, who said, “You’re the one I’ve been hearing about.” Yikes.
I told him I was so thankful that he waited for me to arrive, and that I had broken no less than 15 traffic laws on my way there. I’m sure he was impressed.
I did, however, get this picture, and as of several weeks ago, a tale that has grown over time.
Hometowns. They are great…
I guess everyone really is “famous” there, especially when your sweet and wonderful mom shares a story about you 🙂
On the same day as the world discovered I was counselor-by-day, and football recruiter by night, I heard a sermon that resonated with me. The scripture has echoed in my mind for almost a month, and I have tried several times to “blog” about it. As always, life seems to happen, and it has taken a while to try to swirl the three ideas of boundary lines, hometowns, and pleasant places together.
“The boundary lines for me have fallen in pleasant places. Indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Psalm 16:6
I have thought a great deal about boundary lines, even before hearing the sermon. Boundary lines are formed for a reason. They define areas of land for ownership purposes, as well as divisions of towns, counties, states, and countries. Boundary lines are important. They provide security, and metaphorically, they help us to enforce rules, and laws.
I have a friend who has a saying when someone is being nosey, or gossipy: “They need to sweep around their own back door.”
I like that statement because it serves as a reminder that we all need to work on improving ourselves. Each of us has boundary lines that we need to hone and polish, whether it’s in relationships, between friends, or even just keeping your yard looking nice so your neighbors don’t have to endure looking at an eye sore.
As I observe where the boundary lines have fallen for me, I know I am blessed, indeed. I am thankful for all I have, and am proud and honored to have my family, my friends, and my faith.
As I think about the boundary lines that determined where I grew up, I am reminded of the many other boundary lines which have shaped me. In addition to my hometown, I am fortunate to live in a wonderful little community where we raised our kids and have made lifelong friends.
I also am reminded of the boundary lines that were drawn around the town of Gonzales, where my grandparents lived. It was there where my brother and I forged a bond with the Brown family cousins, a group that gathers together every summer to catch up and celebrate the family from which we came.
I have boundary lines at work, that define and limit the scope and responsibility of my job. If you stop and think about it, there are boundary lines in stores, and on roads and highways, in schools, in our government, and life in general. Knowing and respecting these lines is essential to our well-being as well as the well-being of others.
At times, it is necessary to cross over lines, to offer help and advice when needed. To aide a stranger. To help a neighbor. To make a new friend. And each time we do this, we take all the lessons learned from the boundaries formed around our lives. We share different parts of ourselves in different ways. We extend our hearts and minds, and learn to look at things differently. We accept new challenges, set new goals, and hopefully make the lives of others better.
In Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “Ulysses,” he writes about discovering new boundaries in pleasant places.
Ulysses’ spirit yearns constantly for new experiences that will broaden his horizons; he wishes “to follow knowledge like a sinking star” and forever grow in wisdom and in learning.
In this time of great change, anxiety, and uncertainty, it’s difficult to physically travel, as well as to mentally broaden horizons due to information overload. But, more than ever, I believe we need to continue growing each day. Learning. Investigating. And like Ted Lasso reminds us with the quote by Walt Whitman, “Be curious, not judgmental.” Don’t be lazy when you hear something. Research. Ask questions. Come to your own conclusion. And speak out when you seek to change something for the better.
As you travel through the untraveled places, crossing new boundaries and borders, be forever mindful and appreciative of the pleasant places you experience. Be thankful for the precious borders of the family circle, the comforting places where friendships collide, and the wide, and endless grace that extends throughout the universe and covers us in all we do.
As I wrap this up, and pass along a tiny bit of wisdom I’ve learned along the way, I hope the scripture I’ve shared blesses your life as much as it has blessed mine.
You will make mistakes along the way. You’ll stumble, and even fall. You might make bad choices, but don’t allow those poor choices to define you.
Enjoy the ride. Become legendary (even if it’s in your own mind), and embrace, and acknowledge the places from where you came. Those roots will continue to anchor you, guide you, and shape you for years to come.
And when someone asks how you’re doing, simply say, “The boundary lines for me have fallen in pleasant places. Indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”
Finally, my friends, as you traverse the many boundary lines and pleasant places throughout your life, I pray that your journey will always lead you home.
And never be afraid to re-draw boundary lines, especially around things that won’t end well—–like the oh-so-enticing Laredo Bowl (fajita meat, beans and rice) that was purchased at the restaurant of a local gas station…