Magic Landscapes      

I’m running out of places.

The narrow red brick schoolhouse where I once progressed down a single long hallway from first grade through twelfth burned down long ago. It was an assembly line or sorts that took a dozen years (no kindergarten in our school back then in Oakwood) to traverse if you stayed the course and didn’t stumble. There was no air conditioning, but tall windows in the classrooms that lined the hallway were kept open until winter set in and radiators hissed their way to life. The pinging and tapping of typing class worked its way up and down the hall like the building’s heartbeat.

In 1982 fire also destroyed the venerable building at Sam Houston State University called Old Main where I had attended my first college class in the same ground floor corner room where my father had studied over four decades before. When I saw it burning on the television news, I imagined the flames roaring through the towering century old wooden beams of the big attic auditorium where I saw my first live musical, The Music Man, as a freshman. When the student orchestra went full blast – not with the seventy-six trombones called for in the script, but enough – the whole place rattled and shook. The inmates at the State Prison down the hill probably heard the commotion.                                                                        

Some time or other the pretty little high-steepled Methodist church called Shiloh that was built in 1912 by my grandfather and some other men whose farms were several  miles outside of Alto was torched by a hooligan. When I was a kid we’d go in our family Impala – we were unwavering devotees of Impalas, having three in succession – on the first Sunday of every May to a memorial service in that church before partaking of a feast of fried chicken, potato salad, pies and banana puddings laid out on long tables in the shady yard beside the cemetery where my parents, grandparents and other family members now sleep under ancient pines.  

The red-roofed white frame house in Oakwood I grew up in didn’t burn down, but might as well have. It was sold and sawed in half and hauled off on trucks. So now I guess it’s being a house somewhere else. But without Highway 79 outside my bedroom window and our fig tree out back and our neighbor Miss Mae’s big house up the hill it would no longer be home.

And now Brazoswood, the high school where I spent more than half my life teaching,

has been knocked down and replaced by a new one.  I’ve not yet been inside, and I look forward to that visit. Hopefully somebody will take pity on a Ghost of Brazoswood Past and provide a tour; it looks awfully big, and I would probably get lost in its maze of hallways.

Those places – three school buildings, a church, and my boyhood home – are well and truly gone. But the silver lining in losing special places, and people, is that if our memories are in good working order we can still have them.

I can close my eyes and be with my parents and sisters by our fireplace on a Christmas morning in the 1950s, holding my stocking filled with a smattering of wrapped candy arranged over a big orange in the toe to take up space. Or I can be in my desk in that red brick school house where my senior English teacher Mrs. Anderson is reading to us and, in league with my mother’s influence, pulling me headlong into a lifelong love affair with words and books.

And when my tour of the new Brazoswood is over I’m betting I’ll look at the big empty place where its predecessor used to sit and hear Mr. James Slade give the morning announcements over the PA system.  Or I’ll watch the sea of students, two generations of them, that swept through my classroom. In the library, my absolute favorite room in the building, I’ll lean over the multi-drawered card catalogue and visit with the librarians and several other colleagues before going to our first classes of the day. I might even watch the full Buccaneer band, large enough to probably have seventy-six trombones, march loudly down the halls on Friday mornings of football game days.

Time moves on. And I realize that is not only a fact, but is surely a good thing.

But it’s pleasant, and sometimes downright therapeutic, to spend a few minutes now and then in a place that is only accessible via a bit of time traveling.

And magic.

(Originally published in Brazos Living magazine)

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