‘Gone to Texas’ 50 Years Ago

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Fifty years ago this week, our family left New Hampshire and crossed into Texas, pulling a U-Haul trailer with our teal-green 1964 Mercury Comet. It took about 10 days and nearly 2,000 miles on the road. The first stop was for lunch at a café in downtown Linden since, as usual, we three boys — 12, 10 and 4 — were hungry. (I’m the oldest.)

We all ordered hamburgers and fries. When the food arrived, I was non-plussed to find my burger loaded with lettuce, tomatoes and onions. What? A salad on a hamburger? My mother informed me that was a “Texas burger.” I picked off the offending vegetables and added ketchup to the bun. Since then, I have learned to love veggies but usually leave them off the occasional burger.

After years of listening to my parents, while living in Allenstown, N.H., discuss moving somewhere — anywhere — where they did not have to endure six months of winter, a moving van showed up one day in June. We were Gone to Texas, Longview in particular where my paternal grandfather lived. A few months earlier he had buried his second wife. We would stay with him until my dad found work and our parents found a house of our own. He remarried later that year to a lovely woman who outlived him.

It was an epic voyage, three boys crammed in the backseat, dodging cigarette ashes flicked out the window that whipped into the backseat of our un-air conditioned car. My parents took their time heading south, stopping at the Gettysburg battlefield for a day, in the Smoky Mountains for another. We slept in inexpensive motels and ate cheaply. My parents had to be careful with money, since they didn’t know how long my dad would be out of work.

After eating my burger, sans the rabbit food, we headed to Longview. Carl Borders, my jovial grandfather, was tickled to see us. He treated us to dinner at Wyatt’s Cafeteria on High Street, the first cafeteria not attached to a school that I recall attending. I ordered English pea salad because it looked interesting — cold peas, mayonnaise and cheese cubes. This sparked a lifelong love of that salad. My Beautiful Mystery Companion makes the world’s best.

Adapting to living in East Texas took time. The heat and humidity came as a shock. My grandfather, a Boy Scout executive, enlisted me in Troop 201 and onto a 50-mile hike not long after we arrived. The trek started in Uncertain on Caddo Lake and was supposed to end back in Longview. I fell out somewhere east of Marshall. My parents had to retrieve me. I was too woozy from heat exhaustion to be embarrassed.

By the time school started, my dad was working as a sign painter on contract to Texas Eastman. We bought a ranch-style house on South Twelfth Street that was probably twice as large as our home in Allenstown. I made friends in the neighborhood and started eighth grade at Foster Junior High. I quickly surmised it was in my interest and chances of survival to lose the Yankee/French Canadian accent.

I never lost the Yankee attitude, however.


In the past half-century, I have lived in Texas for all but 11 months — a short stint in Missouri and another in Kansas. Most of my years have been spent Behind the Pine Curtain, the past 10 or so back in Longview, though for a time I commuted back and forth to Austin. There is much to love about East Texas and the state in general, but much is lacking. We lag behind most states in funding for social services, education, teacher pay, number of folks who have health insurance and any number of other indices. That troubles me. Columnist Molly Ivins used to describe Texas as “Mississippi with better highways.” Having recently driven through the Magnolia State, we still definitely have better highways.

I wonder sometimes, but not often, what my life would have been like if we had stayed in New Hampshire. I visit most every summer, when the dog days of summer here require fleeing. My blood has become too thin to consider living where snowdrifts are common in winter. East Texas in the spring and autumn is lovely. The people here are like those anywhere else — generally good folks with a sprinkling of knotheads. (Some might consider me in the latter category.)

For the time being, and maybe for my remaining days, East Texas will be my home. However, I have learned not to predict what turns life will take. Part of me is intrigued about living somewhere else — especially when it’s 97 degrees outside on a June afternoon, or when the Legislature is in session, again doing its best to balance the budget on the backs of poor folks.

But I still haven’t really learned to like rabbit food on my burger.

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