I recently took a trip to Huntsville, Texas, and everything I saw at every turn stirred up old memories.
– Right behind the hotel where I stayed was the apartment complex where my cousins had lived. A few blocks away was a second place they lived.
– I passed a street of good friends of many years. They hosted a wedding shower for me.
– I passed the fancy restaurant where my grandmother lived for a while when she was a child. I remember that when she told us, we had no idea!
– I saw the nursing home where my other grandmother spent her last years.
All of this within a short drive just to get a burger! My mother’s family has been in the Huntsville area since the mid 1800’s so we have a lot of stories. A couple of my favorites:
– Sam Houston was a friend of the family. He used to come and visit.
– My great-grandfather was sheriff for a while and lived in the jail.
Neither of my parents grew up there, but my father moved there after my parents got divorced. He was offered a job at Sam Houston State University as a Criminal Justice professor. So I have a personal connection to the place through my mother and my father.
Besides the personal connections, there is something that draws me to the place. Maybe it’s something about the vines growing in the pines, maybe it’s because I love history and old things, maybe it’s because of my “writer brain”, but when I pass old houses, I imagine children playing and grannies rocking while shelling peas. I love browsing through the old stores. I sometimes look at what they’re selling, though I’m more likely to be looking at the tin ceilings and wondering what the original store was.
The history of a place just calls out to me. I look at the red leather seats in the booth at a diner and remember when not everyone was welcome as a customer. I look at the young, happy families and wonder if they hear or feel the negative things that happened. Can they even imagine it? I pass the prison walls and know the prison has been there since 1849. Lots of famous and infamous people have been in those walls.
At the university I think of my great great aunts who attended when it was a Sam Houston Normal School. We’ve had a graduate from there in every generation. My grandmother went to kindergarten at Old Main, which has since burned down.
I think about my father when I sit on the bench outside the CJ building that’s dedicated to him. There’s a plaque with his name on it. He used to sit outside and smoke and talk to students. Inside the building there’s a big picture of him. Next to it are plaques with names of students who have received scholarships named after him.
Sometimes when I’m in town, I visit the cemetery. I look up my folks and browse around. Yep, some people like museums, I like cemeteries. When you’re looking at someone’s headstone, you see when they were born and when they died. You can see if they were married or had children buried with them. So many stories untold.
It’s all a bit overwhelming for me at times. But I guess it’s no surprise that I like to write historical fiction. For me the place is full of mystery, history, conflicts, love, death and birth. Those piney woods have a lot of secrets.
Do you have a place that calls to you?