We Are Not Lost (Quote of the Day – May 21)

Not all those who wander are lost JRR Tolkein

Not all those who wander are lost. ~J.R.R. Tolkien (from The Lord of the Rings)

I like that quote, you know? I’ve liked it for a while now because, frankly, it makes me feel better about me.

I am a bit of a wanderer, I suppose. I used to think of myself as simply dissatisfied, and maybe, in some ways, I am that. A lot of folks have offered criticism of my wandering habits over the years–mostly out of concern, but sometimes out of a sense of superiority. In my younger days I wandered from school to school and back again. I wandered from major field of study to major field of study; first Music; then History, back to Music, English, Communications, back to Music, then finally graduated with a degree in “Interdisciplinary Studies.” Or, as I like to call it, my Bachelor of Miscellaneous.

I wandered from job to job, usually staying no more than a year, although my time working in a bookstore lasted over five…go figure.

I moved a lot, although never really far away.

“Why don’t you stay put?” I was asked many times. My answers varied and eventually people stopped asking.

Few people understand my transient nature. Not colleagues. Not friends. Not even family. Both my mom and dad grew up at a time and in families where the work ethic was to get a job and keep that job, and both of them did just that. They each worked for companies for 15 and 20 years before moving on and working elsewhere for another 15 or 20 years. It’s hard for them to understand someone like me who just doesn’t seem as connected. I admire them for being able to do that. I certainly don’t fault them for steadfastness and loyalty, so please don’t assume I’m being critical of them.

So why? Why do I have such trouble sitting still?

Truthfully, I don’t know. It is simply in me to move and change.

But, I’m not lost.

Henry David Thoreau, one of my favorite authors and poets, wrote “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?” He was something of a wanderer, too, but was never lost.

I think that is a question that wanderers like me (and there are a lot of us) frequently ask ourselves. What are we busy about? Is what we are doing worth the time we are spending doing it? We wanderers would rather spend an hour on something worthwhile and meaningful which changes a life, and then move on, than spend a lifetime on something average and have only the moniker of consistency as our reward.

When we wanderers find that what we are busy about has lost its usefulness, we move on.

The question then becomes, why are we wrong?

Why did I spend twenty years of my life referring to myself and thinking of myself as a ne’er-do-well, as lazy, as a failure? Why did I value what others thought of me more than I valued my own thoughts?

Why do you think that about yourself now? Why do you put more stock in what others say about you than you put in yourself?

If you are truly lost, then by all means, go find yourself. But, don’t make the mistake I made. Don’t spend half your life confusing searching for being lost. They are most certainly not the same thing.

When we stop searching, we stop growing. When we stop growing, we die.

I don’t want my epitaph to be a litany of jobs I’ve held. I want it to be verse after verse of things I’ve changed and people whose lives were made just a little easier because of something I was able to do for them. For that to happen, I’ll just have to keep moving.

We must all go our own way. For some, that way is steady and sure. For others, it is frought and fearful. For folks like me, it is almost always moving–always in progress. If you see one of us wanderers along your way, don’t worry. We are not lost.

My Hometown Series #3 – Boot Skootin’ & Beauty Queens: The Grand Saline Salt Festival

In case you’re new to the party, you can find #1 and #2 of the My Hometown Series by clicking on those numbers. I’ve never had a response to anything I’ve written like people have responded to these posts. So, here’s installment #3. I really would like to get stories from other people and even other towns. If you have a great story about Grand Saline or if you come from another amazing hometown, please email me and let me tell it. Email information is below. Enjoy!

My Hometown Series #3 – Boot Skootin’ & Beauty Queens: The Grand Saline Salt Festival

The first Salt Festival I ever went to was in 1980, a year before we moved to town. My sister and I had come to Grand Saline to stay with our great-grandmother and great great aunt for a week or so, and the festival happened to be going on while we were there. We went downtown one afternoon to watch the parade. I remember sitting on the corner of Main and Frank Streets in front of what was then The Karat Patch jewelry store (at least I think that’s what was in that building then). While we waited for the parade to start, I sat on the curb under the shade of the Live Oak tree looking at pictures in a magazine of Mt. St. Helens which had erupted only a few weeks earlier. I somehow persuaded my grandmother or aunt to buy a Dr Pepper and a PayDay candy bar for me to eat and drink. There were hundreds of people downtown and we were lucky to get that spot under the tree. In my memory the parade went on and on for what seems like hours–I’m sure it wasn’t quite that long. But, I do remember being enthralled by the fire trucks, ambulance, police cars, horses…and the band! Yes, back then the band even marched in the Salt Festival Parade. They played the fight song as they passed by.

The best part of that day, though, was going into the Salt Palace after the parade

The Grand Saline Salt Palace

This is the Salt Palace as it was back in 1980 when I visited it for the first time.

was over. It was a much smaller building back then and I don’t remember who “manned” it when it was open, but it was someone my grandmother and aunt knew. We went inside and I couldn’t believe that I was standing in a building made of salt. We looked around for a minute or two while they chatted with the lady at the counter and then before we left she gave me and my sister each a small salt rock to take with us. You would have thought it was gold! I kept that little rock for years after that. It sat on my chest of drawers among Star Wars figures and whatever else I’d picked up in my travels as a nine year old. As we left the Salt Palace I did what I’m sure thousands others had done and still do today–I licked the side of the building just to see if it was really salt. I’d never do that today, but wasn’t it great to be a carefree kid?!

John Anderson was a pretty big deal back in those days. Swingin' was still playing on the radio when he came to town.

John Anderson was a pretty big deal back in those days. Swingin’ was still playing on the radio when he came to town.

A few years later things got really exciting when a big country music star made his way to the Salt Festival stage. John Anderson’s “Swingin'” was a huge hit on radio stations that summer and he was headlining the street dance. That must have been 1983 or 1984. We were living on Main Street at the time and I walked Downtown with a couple of friends to eat lunch under the big tent and participate in the kid’s games. I don’t remember whether he had played the night before and stayed over or whether he had arrived in town early, but either way, John Anderson sat down about two seats down from me at the table and ate lunch with a whole passel of curious townsfolk. The poor guy could barely get a bite down between the people coming by to shake his hand or get an autograph or just jaw at him for a minute. This, of course, was long before smartphones were around, so every time someone who had a camera wanted a picture, he would have to stand up and wait while the photographer focused and frame the perfect shot. He was a good sport about it, though.

That night my mom took me and my sister to the street dance. Just like they do now, the stage had been set up on Frank Street right in front of City Hall. The street was blocked off to traffic and folks brought lawn chairs and set them up in the street. My mom and her friend Linda and Linda’s family set their lawn chairs up on the sidewalk in front of what is now Ray’s Barber Shop. I don’t remember what was in that building back in those days. My sister and I found our friends and, if I remember right, did a whole lot of running around and playing instead of listening to the music. The street in front of the stage had been spread with rock salt for people to dance on and I can remember watching Murray and Delores Means two-step just about every song until the concert was over. There were hundreds of people there that night listening to the music, talking, laughing, singing, dancing, and just having a good time with their friends and neighbors. It was typical Grand Saline, and in some ways, typical America.

The street dance and parade weren’t the only thing fun about the Salt Festival, though. There were always so many people in town. Vendors were there selling just about anything you can possibly think of, there were talent shows, Gospel singin’s (that’s different from singing with a ‘g’ believe it or not!), pet shows, cooking competitions, horse shoe and domino tournaments–it was just a really good time. Of course, no Salt Festival would be complete without the Salt Queen Pageant. High school aged girls represented all of the various organizations and charities in town, dressed in formal gowns, and always put on a hell of a show! There was singing, dancing, acting, and who can forget the dads of the duchesses always bringing the house down with their special dance. At the end the new Salt Queen was crowned to reign over the festival.

Back in those days, the rodeo was on the same weekend as the Salt Festival and was a big part of the fun. People would put on their finest western wear and head out to the rodeo grounds to watch the calf ropers, barrel racers, and bull riders compete for the top prize. Naturally there was a calf scramble for the little kids. I remember competing in that once. Just before I jumped over the railing and into the arena, my mom told me not to try very hard because we didn’t have anywhere to put a calf even if I did win. If memory serves, I made it about 20 feet in that thick red dirt wearing my cowboy boots before I face planted in front of 1,000 people! I wasn’t too embarrassed though because there were about a half-dozen other kids who did the same thing. The rodeo

2016 festival program

The 42nd Salt Festival – June 9-11. Festival book produced by Magical Memories by Cara. Facebook: MagicalMemoriesByCara

was always a fun night watching talented cowboys and cowgirls performing.

As I grew older I didn’t attend as many Salt Festivals. During my high school years, they almost always happened on the same weekend as the State Solo & Ensemble competition in Austin, and I was there competing every year. Then my family moved away from Grand Saline for a number of years and I just never seemed to be in the right place. For a few years the Salt Festival lost a little bit of its luster. As the town transitioned, people seemed to lose interest in it. But, now there is an awesome group of people who have worked hard to bring it back to life and this year’s festival looks to be pretty incredible! Country superstar Mark Chesnutt will be headlining the street dance on Saturday night, there are going to be tons of vendors, games, competitions, and a lot more. You can find more information about this year’s festival by checking out their Facebook page.

salt festival program

The 42nd Salt Festival – June 9-11. Festival book produced by Magical Memories by Cara. Facebook: MagicalMemoriesByCara

The Salt Festival is such an important part of the history of Grand Saline. I’m glad that there is a group of folks in place who recognize that and who have worked as hard as they have to put it back in the spotlight. I’m going to try to make it this year. I think with all of the craziness in the world these days it’s good to find a way back to happier times, at least for a little while. No, it won’t fix anything and it probably won’t even change anything, but at least it will reinforce the idea that some pieces of our history are worth holding on to.

If you would like to be a guest blogger for the My Hometown Series, or any other topic, please email me — jason@jasonawalker.com


Where’s the Off Switch For My Brain? (Pic of the Day – May 18)

Overthinking: The art of creating problems that weren't even there.

Overthinking: The art of creating problems that weren’t even there.

I can certainly relate to this! If overthinking is an art then I’m Pablo Picasso. Not only do I overthink, but every thought is messy and disjointed and mutated and. . .ugly! Where’s the off switch for my brain? People like me who suffer from anxiety and depression often find themselves overthinking–creating problems where none exist. I had a co-worker once who called it awfulizing–making everything awful even when it’s not. I like that term because it fits. Part of my battle everyday is ignoring the awful and finding the awe-inspiring. It’s not always easy and I often fail to find it, but I do always try.

Maybe someday scientists will invent that off switch! Until then. . .press on.

My Hometown Series #2 – The Old Red Brick Building

Wow! I’m completely blown away by the response to the My Hometown Series #1 post yesterday. I guess I’m not the only nostalgic person around. In that same spirit, this second post was a piece I wrote for publication in the Grand Saline Sun in July of 2013 on the occasion of our school district opening a brand new elementary school. The old building had been the elementary school for over 60 years and simply was no longer a facility which could function as designed. There was (and still is, I guess) a lot of discussion regarding the fate of the building. To date, it is still standing empty with no plan for its future that I’m aware of. If you would like to contribute to the My Hometown Series (it’s not just about MY hometown), please see the contact info at the bottom of this post.

My Hometown Series #2 – The Old Red Brick Building

The building has stood through wind and rain; through heat and cold; through good times and bad. For more than sixty years, the old red brick building in the middle of Oleander Street has stood as a symbol of part of what we hold dear about our little hometown. For more than sixty years it has stood as generations of students sat in classrooms and listened to the thumps and creaks its old wooden floors made as their teachers returned with worksheets or textbooks.

“Shhhhh! She’s coming. Be quiet!!” The lookout would alert.

But, it was never fast enough. Before the warning was heard by most of the chattering students, the doorknob turned, the latch clicked, the big wooden door opened and Mrs. Starkey, Mrs. Watson, Mrs. Stacey, Fisher, McNatt, Grant or any of the others who gave more of themselves than they were ever asked to give, was standing in front of the class openly aghast by their disobedience but secretly laughing at their attempts to fool her. None of them were ever fooled. None of us were quick or clever enough to make that happen!

It’s a building full of memories – too many to number. Memories of students seated in the wooden seats in the auditorium before school watching cartoons on the old console television in front of the stage. Memories of swinging on the monkey bars or sliding down the slide at recess. Memories of kickball on the old baseball field behind the gym. Each of the memories unique to each of us, and yet a common bond between hundreds of people – young and old – who share them.

It’s a building full of people – some of them still with us and some long gone. Which of us doesn’t remember Mrs. Bogan seated in her wheelchair in the office diligently working to ensure that the day-to-day business of the school was successful? Or, Coach Yates with his four and eight count calisthenics, bear crawl, and “pickin’ peas?” Which of us doesn’t remember ‘Miss Dot’ Jennings collecting lunch money? Or, Mrs. Fisher

The old Grand Saline Elementary School building.

The old Grand Saline Elementary School building.

leading the class singing K-K-K-Katie?! They were and are one of a kind and the roll call is a Who’s Who of dedicated women and men who cared for their students as if they were their own children.

They’re all there – the people, the sites, the sounds – they are all part of what makes us nostalgic when we drive by the old red brick building in the middle of the street. To be sure, things have changed over the last six decades. New buildings have been built and a few of them have already been torn down. Countless coats of paint have been applied to walls and doors and trim. Playground equipment has come and gone. But, that building still stands as a keeper of memories; a keeper of hopes and dreams; a keeper of history.

The halls are empty now. The last students to ever walk them left weeks ago, but the floors still thump and creak as teachers and workers walk them while working toward the big move. Each thump is a footstep from history. Each creak is a memory of days gone by. No matter what happens in the next months and years, those memories will remain. It will be 2023 before that last student to walk those halls walks the commencement stage and that will be almost 80 years since the first student entered the new red brick building in the middle of the street.

August will bring a fresh start in a brand new building. The floors won’t thump or creak. The latches on the doors won’t click as loudly. There will be new faces and new names; new toys to play on; new desks and chairs to sit in, and new memories to be made. But, for those of us who are lucky enough to have spent part of our childhood walking those halls, playing on that playground, and learning from those teachers, the memories will remain part of us. Whatever the future holds, for us Grand Saline Elementary School will always be that old red brick building.

If you would like to be a guest blogger for the My Hometown Series, or any other topic, please email me — jason@jasonawalker.com

My Hometown Series #1 – Do You Remember?

I wrote this piece back in 2008 for publication in my hometown newspaper, The Grand Saline Sun. I no longer live in Grand Saline, and some of the things I wrote about have changed, but in general it is still relevant. A reader commented on this post earlier today and reminded me of our hometown back when we were growing up. Nostalgia got the better of me, so I am posting this as the first in a multi-part series called “My Hometown.” I will feature pieces not only about Grand Saline, but hopefully hometowns from all over submitted by guest bloggers. See information about contributing after the piece.

My Hometown Series #1 – Do You Remember?

Do you remember it — the sound that the big brass latch made when you pressed it? Do you remember the squeaky hinge on the big wooden door? Do you remember the sound of the small bell that alerted the clerk when a customer came in? What about the creaking of the hardwood floors that always seemed to shine no matter how many feet walked over them day after day? Do you remember the store even being there?

When I was a young boy – long before my mother, sister and I moved to Grand Saline – I always looked forward to coming to town to visit my great-grandmother, Marie Sharp and my great great-aunt, Hallye Watson. One of the reasons I liked coming to town so much is that, without fail, Miss Hallye (as she was known to all her former students) would take my sister and me to town with her when she and my grandmother had errands to run. Once they had finished what they had to do at the bank or the Post Office, we would make the short walk down Main Street to the W & W Department Store. I remember everything about that store as if I had been in it this morning. The latch, the squeaky hinge, the bell, the wood floors and even the smell — yes, I remember that smell that is impossible to describe and yet is so vivid to me all these years later.

Darby's Dept. Store - Now the future location of the Grand Saline Salt Museum

Darby’s Dept. Store – Now the future location of the Grand Saline Salt Museum

There was a charm about Grand Saline back then. That squeaky hinge could have been on just about any door in Downtown. Perry Brothers, K. Woolen’s, Jarvis’ or Darby’s Department store, they were all there. I remember getting Ice Cream at The Emporium and a fountain Coke at City Pharmacy. I remember sitting outside on the hot sidewalk while my mom, grandmother or aunt went into The Smart Shop or The Gazebo. I even remember Tolley Wimpey’s bench. It was a 1950’s town in a 1980’s world.

As I grew older I made memories walking with friends downtown during the Salt Festival. It lasted all week long back the and there were tons of people in town. On the one occasion I was exempt from final exams in middle school, I remember walking down to the Saline Café for lunch and eating a chili cheeseburger. When I was in high school I swept and mopped Darby’s Department Store after closing and washed the windows and mowed the grass by the railroad tracks on Saturdays. I remember seeing Mr. Maciel and Mr. Ellis standing in front of their storefronts talking to customers.

city pharmacy

The Old City Pharmacy

Back then we still had The Show. When the Johnson’s owned it, I helped out at the snack bar a few times. I didn’t care that I wasn’t getting paid – I got free drinks and popcorn and when it wasn’t real busy I got to go upstairs in the projection booth and watch the movie from there. When the show was over I got to take home as much popcorn as I could carry. I remember all of these things.

What I don’t remember from back then is empty buildings and empty streets. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s just getting older and wanting to remember things more fondly than reality would allow, but in my memories there always seems to be something going on downtown. In my memories there are always people. In my memories Grand Saline is always open for business.

I work until 7pm these days. By the time I arrive home around 8, the streets are quiet and the shops are closed. If it weren’t for our restaurants, the movie store and Brookshire’s, the entire town would be down for the night.

Why the change? What’s the difference between the Grand Saline in my memory and our present day home?

The old K. Woolen's Dept. Store building.

The old K. Woolen’s Dept. Store building.

Where did the people go and what happened to the bustle of activity? It can’t be that the world just simply passed us by.

We’ve all heard the stories. Years ago, Sam Walton wanted to put one of his little stores in Grand Saline, but in a fog of short-sightedness, Grand Saline said, “No.” So, old Mr. Walton said, “Ok, I’ll just put one of my stores on either side of Grand Saline and choke the life out of it.” Who knows how much of that is really true and how much is legend, but whatever the case is – however true or false the story may be – the fact remains that somewhere along the line, Grand Saline lost what luster it may have once had and after that may have lost its will to live.

I’m not naïve. I know that change is inevitable. Nothing ever stays the same. But, I also know that whether change is good or bad largely depends on how it is dealt with. I’m not much for believing in an unalterable destiny that takes us down a path not of our own choosing. In other words, we don’t have to simply settle for something less that what we want because someone else tells us that’s the way it is.

There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years about bringing Grand Saline “back from the dead” so to speak. Our town has been named a Main Street City. We even had the First Lady of Texas come and make the presentation. Some money has been handed out and several noticeable changes have taken place to the look of the downtown area. We now have a very nice gazebo across from the pavillion and the library. At first I thought it was misplaced so close to the train tracks, but then I accepted that as part of the quirky charm Grand Saline still has.

I was happy to read that Mr. Darby has donated his building and that it will be used for a museum. I think that is a great place for one and offers plenty of space. If it is done right it can be an interesting look at how this town sprang up in the middle of nowhere and how a little part of us and our history travels around the world every day with that little girl holding the umbrella. It still fascinates people who don’t live here when I tell them there’s enough salt under Grand Saline to supply the world with salt for 20,000 years. “Are you serious?”, is generally their answer. Do we find our home interesting, or is Grand Saline just a place to be from? Maybe some of that fascination is what we need.

As fascinating as the town is, even more so are some of the folks who live here. In a time when veterans of World War II are leaving us more and more each day, we need to take the time to cherish the ones who are still with us. They are as much a part of what makes this town unique as any of those old stores or what lies under our streets. Let’s not let them and their memories go without capturing them. Recently, National Public Radio traveled around the country with a mobile recording studio letting people tell their stories and there were some pretty interesting ones told. Perhaps we should consider a project like that here in Grand Saline. Not just for our veterans to tell their stories, but for anyone who wants to share their memories from home. It would be a sad day if we let anymore of them go unshared.

Surely I can’t be the only person thinking about these things. There must be someonegs city limits else out there who doesn’t want to see Grand Saline simply wither away. Oh yes, I’ve complained about it many times. But, you know, your home town is a little like your family – it’s OK for you to make fun of it and complain about it, but you’ll fight anyone else who does. Let’s do something now before it’s too late. Let’s get people back to town. Let’s give people a reason to come TO Grand Saline and not just come THROUGH Grand Saline. There’s only one movie theater in Van Zandt county now – shouldn’t there be another one? First Monday is only 11 miles away – how about an antique shop or two? I like to bowl – do you?

We can do this, you know that, don’t you? We don’t have to resign ourselves to mediocrity. All it takes is the ‘want to’ to get it done. Yes, it will take some work. Yes, it might cost a little something. No, it won’t happen overnight. But, it absolutely can happen if we want it bad enough!

For all my gripes and complaints, I don’t want this town to die. And, the reason I don’t want it to die is because of those memories I talked about. Those memories are part of what made me who I am. Those memories are part of all of us – when they’re gone, so are we. Let’s not let that happen.

Do you remember?

If you would like to contribute to the “My Hometown” series, or be a guest blogger on any topic, please email me — jason@jasonawalker.com