Sunday, March 30, 2008

U.S. Highway 64...

The stretch of Highway 64 that connects Tyler to Henderson is probably only thought of for two things by those who do not reside near it. Texas History buffs will know it because of its proximity to New London, which was the location of the worst school catastrophe in U.S. history when a gas leak caused an explosion that killed almost 300 students. On a lighter note, fans of Miranda Lambert will recognize one of the highway's numerous small municipalities, Turnertown. In her song "Famous in a Small Town," she puts off going to Nashville because of her being the first one to shoot a buck during deer season. It was such an event she made the front page of the Turnertown Gazette. (I haven't done any extensive research, but I'm quite sure this is a fictional newspaper. Turnertown is the home of a gas station, antique store, an old dilapidated garage, and not much else.)

For me, U.S. Highway 64 will always be about this man:

I've been riding or driving along this stretch of road for my entire life. My grandparents lived in Carthage, which required a trip down 64 before you were deposited onto U.S. 79. Much of the East Texas of my childhood has changed. The downtown buildings in Chandler have been destroyed and all around town sterile metal buildings housing Dollar Stores and Wash-a-terias are popping up. Tyler and the other towns are hardly recognizable. But this bit of highway has been largely untouched.

Wendy Bounds, in the book Little Chapel on the River that I have raved about for the better part of a year stated that it seemed as if Corporate Society began knocking on the door of Garrison (home to the Little Chapel,) and Garrison said very politely "Thanks, but no thanks."

As I was driving the backroads last week I saw this man plowing the fields. I imagined living his life, going to and fro on that machine for probably over half a century. He was oblivious that some punk wanting to recapture a (perhaps largely fictional) past was taking his picture.

I probably couldn't handle his way of life, and he would most likely say "Thanks, but no thanks" to mine. And yes, I hear all the naysayers screaming that I'm romanticizing a Rockwellian society that probably never existed. I largely agree. But something about standing there, thinking about how this man may go to bed worried about the future, the upcoming Texas summer and his inability to make as good a return on his work than what he once did. But how at the end of all that, he at least knew that he left it all on the table and that there is no shame in being where you are-- That made me appreciate Highway 64 just a bit more.

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