Moseying: History of the Southern Llano Estacado
The past is alive
August 4, 2004
What has been the most interesting discovery you have made while moseying along the backroads of west Texas researching your column? A reader posed the question after I had given a civic group program. Much of my traveling around is due to presenting such programs, but this talk was in Midland. I had to think a moment it was a very good question!
I surprised myself with the answer; It is that the past is still alive. The past has a lot to do with how we Llaneros do things, and the shape of our society. The past is kept alive by people. If I write about things that have happened in the last 150 years, oftentimes somebody who is related to the protagonists will call in. During such interviews, I have agreed to requests to not tell some stories because the families involved have had to live with the effects of a tragedy or scandal through two or three generations.
My questioner thought for a minute. Hmmmm . With tabloid journalism, the goal is to expose the family skeletons and to generate scandal. It sounds like you have discovered that it does not truly serve the community to strip away the dignity of those involved by dissecting a scandal publicly. Their families have to endure not only the transgressions of their loved one, but also put up with the unfeeling comments that go along with the ensuing social ostracism. Modern media often does not demonstrate a sense of community responsibility. What interests me is how did society change so that the tabloid scandal-mongering became prevalent or even relevant?
The woman, well-dressed in designer clothes, looking much younger than the sixty-plus years of age I knew her to be, appeared to formulating an answer to her own question, so I kept quiet and waited. She had actively participated in the discussion I had facilitated and had mentioned how as a primary school-age child she had perceived World War II rationing. (Part of the discussion had involved water conservation and a number of the folks had said that water rationing should become part of the way of life on the Llano.)
She preceded to put things in broader perspective. In smaller towns, the scandals are known without the need of publishing the information. In bigger towns, with constant the migration of people in and out, it is different. Many of the older people that now live on the Llano are immigrants, born elsewhere and came here as adults. For example, Midland was small until after the War when my parents and I came the edge of town was where Walgreens is now. As a result the past scandals of the town are obscured, and for many people, it would seem the past has nothing to do with the present. She paused, and then with a smile said, The perspective possessed by people that are born here, and live their lives here is different, isnt it? There is the presence of the past that helps to determine relationships and social interaction.
An elderly man, with a barrel chest and a mane of thick white hair had been listening to her, and decided to join in the conversation. This is off on a tangent a little, but the older I get, the more I think about how people could better utilize the lessons of the past. I took my visiting grandkids down to my cabin near Ft. Davis. On the way back we stopped at one of the abandoned gins north of Balmorhea, and took them on a detour through Barstow, and drove around Penwell. I showed them those places and told what I knew of their history. I tried to tell them about how excited people were as they created the industries of the region how everybody saw the good times brought by progress and development of an industry. My kids left west Texas to go to college during the bust of the 1980s and nowadays almost never come back from their homes on the East Coast. To their kids they tell their vision of this place a vision full of images of decay, drying up, and depopulation.
The woman spoke up again. It sounds depressing to have that image of ones home. That image is something they learn. They have not learned the stories of the struggles of the people and the industries that left behind such artifacts. If they knew the stories of the peoples determination, creativity, and endurance they would see their birth home differently. And if they knew those stories, they might be inspired to build new industries and new ways of life here.
He chuckled. When my kids were growing up, I was busy with life and had not learned stories of west Texas that I can tell now, because I have lived them. And my father was not here to serve as a storyteller of this area he was back in east Texas where five generations of my family had lived. I told my kids stories about east Texas when I had time to tell stories.
The woman twisted her back to the side a couple of times in an athletes stretching motion. You pointed out one source of stories about the past the grandparents. So many families, however, do not have three generations in one town. Lots of kids hardly ever see a grandparent aged person who could tell them a story about their homes human history or natural world. What other source of stories about local history can be found? On television or in other media other than books? No, none, not at all. Do kids like to read books, much less books of local history no in fact it is rare that a kids book is published about our local history Patrick Dearen has three great adventure stories that every school kid in the region should read. Is local history taught in school? Only rarely, as far as I know, and taught by social studies teachers who participate in the Young Historians program I remember a fellow doing it at St. Anns and the Midland Reporter Telegram published the kids research.
I finally joined in again. The people in an area used to have a body of common knowledge about their surroundings, and sometimes even mythologies built up about an area over dozens of generations. For most of human history, such common knowledge was part of the fabric of a localized society, and it bound us much tighter than we are bound now. And I use the word bound on purpose, for that is how such knowledge is often viewed a person can be bound to a domineering parent, be bound to an expected lifestyle and career, or be bound to hurtful social mores. Criticism of regionalism ranges from chauvinism to enforced patriotism to provincialism.
The excesses of regionalism occurred in isolation with the Internet, television, movies, and radio, isolation rarely occurs nowadays, and especially not in the developed countries. The woman opened her handbag and fished out her keys and then shook my hand.
I thanked her for insightful and thought-provoking comments. This has been yet another form of daytrip, you know. Anytime a persons horizons change, that person has journeyed and you have expanded my horizons!