Gone To Texas, 45 Years Ago

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Forty-five years ago this month, our family rolled into East Texas in a bluish-green 1964 Mercury Comet pulling a U-Haul trailer. It was the culmination of a 1,737-mile odyssey that began 10 days earlier when the moving van left our home in Allenstown, N.H. We followed suit a few hours later — Gone To Texas as the saying goes. My parents took their time driving southwest, stopping off at the Gettysburg battlefield, the Smoky Mountains, and other points of interest along the way. It was a wonderful road trip that took our minds off the fact that we three boys had been uprooted from the only lives we had ever known, away from a considerable network of family and friends. Eventually we crossed the Red River into East Texas, stopping in downtown Linden at a café for lunch. That is where I discovered that Texans put lettuce and tomatoes on their hamburgers, something Yankees did not do, preferring only pickles, onions, ketchup and mustard. It was 1968, I was on the verge of turning 13, talked funny and had a lot to learn about the ways of East Texas and the South.

I thought about this a few days ago while heading out Harrison Road to a business located near my grandfather’s old house out that way, on a one-block street in Greggton. We lived with him that summer until my dad found a job, and my parents bought a house, both of which occurred before school started.  I drove past the convenience store and washateria across Harrison Road where I would walk to from his house on Stewart Street that summer to buy an ice cream sandwich with money earned at the roller skating rink. On one of my first trips (in a story I’ve told before and will tell again) I noticed a sign painted on the washateria window: “White Only.” I asked my mother how a washateria could only allow afford to allow white clothes to be laundered there. She sighed and explained the sign pertained to the color of the patrons’ skins, not the laundry. I realized we had moved to a very different place. Those types of overt Jim Crow signs by 1968 were rapidly disappearing, even if the sentiment was very much alive.

That convenience store and washateria are still operating. My grandfather’s widow died in 2011, so the house finally passed out of the family’s hands last year.


My grandfather, Carl Borders, was a professional Boy Scout, which meant I was soon a member of Troop 201, considered one of the city’s elite troops — at least by my grandfather. One of the first boys to befriend me was Mickey Melton, a tall skinny fellow who didn’t seem to mind my Yankee accent and the fact that I was about half his height. I was soon signed up for a 50-mile hike, from Uncertain, Texas on Caddo Lake back toward Longview. My dad, a commercial artist, printed up T-shirts for the venture.

None of the responsible adults seemed to take into account that I was a Yankee used to harsh New Hampshire winters but utterly unprepared for 95-degree heat, and humidity even higher than that. I fell out on the third day, and my parents were called to come fetch me, which was rather embarrassing, though everyone was kind — especially Mickey. We talked about it at lunch soon after I moved back here in early 2008 to publish the paper. Mickey, a longtime civic leader here who passed away in 2010, was also perplexed about my parents’ judgment back then. I guess they were just trying to get me involved as quickly as possible. Luckily my two younger brothers — ages 10 and four at the time —were too young to be in Boy Scouts. For all I know, my parents would have had them trudging along the road from Uncertain to Longview as well.


 I return to my native New Hampshire in the dog days of August when possible, though it has been four years since my last visit. I still haven’t lost hope for a quick trip this summer to catch a Red Sox game, enjoy some clam chowdah, walk around Boston Commons, perhaps spend a day in the Granite State visiting relatives and my childhood friend, Bruce Courtemanche. I have no intention of ever living there again but love to visit and renew that tie to the places that formed me — especially when it is 100 degrees down here for weeks on end.

Still, I would rather endure summers in East Texas, which I freely admit detesting, than several months of freezing weather. My blood has thinned after decades down here, to the point that last winter I was getting grumpy when East Texas actually had what passes for an actual winter, with several weeks of temperatures the 30s and 40s.

I guess that means these Piney Woods have become home to me after 45 years, even if I still pronounce some words funny by local standards, such as “roof” and “room.” But “y’all” trips off my tongue as naturally as a native, and I even put lettuce and tomato on my hamburgers now.

I suppose I’m becoming acclimated.

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