I grew up in a smallish northeast Texas town. It wasn’t tiny, by any means. It wasn’t a city either though. We had a full four-year University and a dead railway station. So we were sort of in between. At 8,000-ish people considered to be living there full time (the university tended to double the town’s population, if not slightly more than double in years that attendance got closer to 9,000), we were large enough for a tiny movie theater, between 2 and 3 pizza places, several fast food joints, a Braum’s, 1 real car dealership, a Dairy Queen, and a variety of mom and pop places. Tiny towns didn’t have Braum’s, and were lucky if they had a Whataburger. Oh, and there were well over 100 churches within the town city limits.
I’m not kidding. They were a variety of dominations. One Catholic church, lots of Baptist, quite a few non-denomination, a Church of Christ, a Presbyterian, a First Methodist, and a First Baptist, that I can think of off the top of my head in the main part of town. If you got closer to the tracks, you got more non-denominationals and some more interesting flavors of Baptist. I went to the Catholic church, so I was a heathen. Even among some of the Catholics, I was a little weird, because I didn’t get baptized until I was about 5 or 6 years old. Considering the fact that first communion comes just a couple years later, and most babies are baptized shortly after birth I was not normal.
The bit where I was sort of normal was where my dad worked for the university. And at the time, my mom was mostly a stay-at-home mom. She might do volunteer work with some of the other university wives, but she didn’t have a job. When I was growing up, that was okay. Mom’s who got to work were really kind of special.
Dad worked in the Arts and Sciences – mostly the arts side. He specialized in theater: the technical aspects mostly, but he also taught speech and so worked as a director and with actors. Mom had training as a librarian and liked history and political science and theology, and of course enjoyed art and music and theater. Between their backgrounds and mom being Catholic, and of course not being southern in any way themselves, mom and dad didn’t have huge opinions on alcohol other than what they liked and didn’t, and that there were age limits that made it legal or not for various students and faculty and staff to partake. It was in the house. We didn’t live in a dry county, despite all of those churches. There was a package store: Red’s. Red carried everything from beer and wine on up to stuff that smelled like the things my dad used to clean his paint brushes. He also kept cigarettes. Mom and Dad liked to support the local shops, and besides Red was nice. And he might’ve been the only liquor store when they first moved there. (Later, one opened up a ways on the outskirts of town, but I don’t think that was there. And it was further away anyway.) So there was alcohol in the house.
This was only a little strange. Other kids I knew had parents that kept beer in the house. But it was locked up in glass cabinets. Mom and dad just kept theirs on the top shelf of the pantry, or in the refrigerator if they wanted it cold. Plus, if I really wanted to have a taste they’d let me. (It usually tasted horrible. Although red wine that was watered down with cold water was sort of nice. Like juice but grown up.) The part where I had wine with special meals? That part wasn’t normal. Kids would either pretend to be scandalized (while having a look on their face they suggested they were jealous, which didn’t make sense to me very much), or they’d declare my parents were going to hell for making me sin.
And yet, we weren’t allowed to cross the big street alone. Not on foot. Not on our bikes. We were not allowed even on the big street. To be fair, the big street was the business redirect of an actual state highway going through town, and was a four lane with a turning lane in the middle and almost non-existent shoulders. There were curbs, but there wasn’t a sidewalk on the side of the street our neighborhood was on. As kids, we figured out ways around this that we’d later get in trouble about.
Mom: You crossed Culver! You went to so-n-so’s house in Tanglewood*!
Me (usually defending myself and my next sister down at the least): We did not cross Culver. We did go to their house though.
Mom: How did you get there if you didn’t ride your bike on Culver? There’s no other way!
Me: Sure there is. *pointing* You go through that field and cut around the power plant fence, and try to avoid the stickers and blackberries, and it comes out around the back side of the school+. It’s only two blocks over to Tanglewood from there. Well, and another two blocks toward Culver. But we came back the same way. So we never got on the big road. We did go through a few ditches though. They were muddy.
Mom: *breathes deeply and probably counts to ten* Don’t cut through the field any more. You’ll get eaten up by ticks. *hand raises* I don’t care if you don’t have any on you this time. Don’t do it. *turns around and walks off before really losing her temper*
The other kids my age were pretty sure this was highly unreasonable and strict. And since they rode their bikes for miles, it was hard to argue with them.
I also didn’t sleep over until I was well over 10 years old. Other kids already had been for at least a couple of years.
But I had grown-up conversations, with grown-ups, about various dinner party foods, Mark Twain, various musicals, and party-games like Password and gin and bridge, all before the age of ten.
I know other kids in my grade who later, as a teenager, I began to wonder if they maybe had a few similar experiences. At least about the artsy bits. Music maybe. Or movies. But there were so many of my contemporaries who had treated me oddly that frankly, I accepted the role of outside and never looked back.
I loved my parents, and as far as I could see, they hadn’t done anything worse letting me drink an extremely watered down cabernet with Thanksgiving dinner than another kid’s dad had done by letting him sip his Milwaukee Lite while they watched Sunday afternoon sports. It was occasionally annoying to ask for rides everywhere, but looking back; they always knew generally where I was as a result. In an age with wired phones in most houses, but sometimes only one, that was a pretty good thing to be able to say. And I never had an obsession with alcohol. It was available for the asking, so why bother sneaking it? I had a much more complicated relationship with sweets, which were actually hidden, than I did with wine or beer.
I think overall, they did a pretty good job with us. I miss them. I wish I could tell them again what good adults they were.
*Tanglewood was a neighborhood. It was also a street that was what the surrounding development took its name from. I don’t think there was a wall declaring it “Tanglewood” subdivision. People just knew. We lived off Bois d’Arc, and our subdivision had a name, but it didn’t make sense, and so it never stuck that I knew of.
+The school in question was one of two elementary schools in town. This particular one was grades 3 through 5. It was named after a man I don’t remember the history of, and was definitely the newer of the two.
Cryptic dream in which dad called but couldn’t talk long. Wanted to talk to me and A. Gave password to reach him on old muck room online. Said mom had got him from airport and all the animals were rambunctious and happy because he/they was/were home. A and I kept getting trapped by library patrons on wild goose chase. Very frustrated upon waking. Headache. Fed cats took Advil trying for sleep again.
These sorts of dreams happen a lot lately. Recording because almost coherent. Miss them.