Sometimes you just have to make a pilgrimage back home and touch base with your roots. When I got word last week that there was a 90th birthday party scheduled Saturday afternoon for a very dear friend in Smiley, David and I juggled our schedules so we could be there.
I've not been venturing very far from home lately, so I was happy to have an excuse to point Big Red south and drive the familiar route. I left a couple of hours earlier than necessary so I could stop at a bookstore in Gonzales on the way. It turned out to be a great little store and I found myself wishing there had been something like it when we lived in the area. I picked up three Gonzales County history books to add to my reference library. Great start to the day.
The birthday party was being held in the fellowship hall of the First Baptist Church in Smiley. The last time I was there was for Daddy's memorial service and not exactly an occasion for wandering around looking for memories.
This time I was able to poke around, look in closets, check out the remodeled class rooms, and play a song on the grand piano. They didn't have a grand piano when I was a regular pianist there, otherwise it was a familiar feeling looking over at the old Hammond organ where Miss Reba would reign on Sunday mornings while I tried vainly to be heard. Miss Reba held the opinion that the piano should only be heard during the offertory. At least if I made a mistake, the only one who knew it was my poor father, who sat with his ear at the back of the upright that I played.
The focus of the day, of course, was the 90th birthday celebration for Thelma Barnett, a lady who does not look a day over 75, and is one of the finest persons I have ever known.
Thelma, on the left, and her sister Evelyn Mutschler, on the right, were good friends of my parents back in our Smiley days. Evelyn was the mother of one of my class mates and Thelma was the mother of David's best friend in grade school. They are the last remaining siblings from a blended family of 11 children. I had the pleasure of visiting with their children, grand-children and there may have even been the odd great-grandchildren floating around.
I had a really good time sitting in an alcove chatting with the two life-long friends, Thelma's son Keith and little brother. This is the now.
And this is the when (probably about 1980), before wives, kids and jobs turned them into respectable adults.
David stepped into Daddy's place at the pulpit and I sat at the organ, although I did not take a chance on cranking it up. (I did crank it up and play a few songs after Daddy's memorial service.) When Miss Reba was away, I would shift to the organ, so it is an old friend and I would dearly love to tuck it under my arm and whisk it away, even though it would fill the better part of my garage. It is a grand old lady and there is still life in her.
I didn't take a chance on sneaking the organ home, but I did pilfer a souvenir for myself. Keith, David and I were sitting and chatting, when I idly started checking out the books in a small bookcase in the alcove. It suddenly dawned on me that three books in the top shelf were calling my name. I knew they were books that we had left behind, because I had clear memories of them from way before Smiley. I remarked to the boys that "those are my books!" and went to pull them out and take a look. Sure enough, my name and address from Oak Hill (1960-1962) were inscribed on the fly leaf in my childish scrawl.
Although I figured it would be easy for me to simply tuck them under my arm and no one would be the wiser, you will be relieved to know that I trotted into the fellowship hall and asked permission from the pastor to reclaim my property. He was happy to send them home with me.
The church parsonage is immediately south of the church, so I wandered over to take a photo of the house where we lived for 9 years. It hasn't changed all that much. There is a metal roof now and the flower beds are gone.
Otherwise, it looks much the same.
about 1966, me, Daddy & David
On the way out it was obvious that the place to be in Smiley on that Saturday night was next door at the Volunteer Fire Department. They were having a fund-raising barbecue and I think most of Smiley was there. Unfortunately, we had to forego the opportunity. It was getting late. We drove out to the cemetery to check on Daddy's grave before heading back to our regularly scheduled lives.
Once in awhile you need to go back where you came from and find out that the good folks you remember are still there, small town life is still good, and that no matter how far away you roam physically and mentally, there is still a place that remembers when you were a geeky kid who played the piano for Sunday services. It is a little weird when someone mistakes you for your parent, though. It happened to both of us. We are a few years older than our parents were when we moved away from Smiley. There were several folks who got caught in a time warp when they saw us.
It's funny. I've lived in Bastrop for most of my life, but "home" will always be Smiley.