Thursday, May 13, 2010

What on Earth is going on in this space?

For the past 15+ years I’ve used this space to attempt to tell the story of our community’s history. The rest of the newspaper, in Philip Graham’s famous line, is the 'first rough draft of history;' my weekly paragraphs have been an attempt to provide a second rough draft of some of our community’s earliest stories.
Over 800 times I’ve carried a canary into the mines, while hoping to find a new vein in our community’s story here, some nugget to bring back to the surface. There have been a few times when the canary stopped singing, but I’ve always made it back out of the mine with the canary still alive.
I continue to be surprised by the generosity of my readers. This week two people have brought by historic newspapers as gifts. I’ve received several nice photographs for my collection of historic Kerrville photos. And just this morning a kind reader sent me a transcript of an oral history project, featuring the history a prominent local family. It included one of the funniest anecdotes I've read in a very long time, and one which I will share here soon.
I suppose my point is this: the story of this place is rich. I believe you could write a 1000 columns for a 1000 weeks and still not get the whole of it written down.
Not that these words have been meant to be scholarly or in any way a complete history of our community. There are others who do that better.
My paragraphs have been meant to be impressions, my limited impressions of the story of our community as I understand the story.
Some examples from my week, to help explain what I mean:
Coming home from work the other night, I stopped at the intersection of West Lane and Coronado, and, like a good driver, I checked both directions. Facing northwest, as I was, if you look down the hill and to the west, you can see two striking things, framed by the hills and lit by the glow of the setting sun: a church steeple and a schoolhouse.
They were golden in the evening sun.
When I was a boy this whole section of land was rugged and wild. We neighborhood boys used to build 'forts' there, far, we thought, from the expectations of adults. I used to trespass on the property all of the time when I was young; I'm pretty sure I climbed a certain tree on that large property, which, when the property was subdivided and sold into lots, is now confined in my own backyard.
Looking out at the scene from the saddle of Coronado hill, it's as if an entire community sprung up from what was once raw land. Where cattle once grazed there is now a church; where hay was once grown there is now a school.
Likewise, I was in the parking lot of the print shop this week when I heard the sound of glass breaking in the direction of the hospital. I went to investigate, of course. I looked up at the old girl and saw, through its broken windows, a little 'bobcat' tractor zipping around inside the structure, tearing down walls and pushing debris away.
It only took a moment to realize the little tractor was at work on the 4th floor, in what, when our son Joe 3 was born, was the delivery room. How sad it seemed to see the little machine destroy that particular room which had once been such an important place of joy and beginning in my little family's personal history.
Please don't take this 'impression' as a note against progress: I believe the new things coming to the down town area will be good for our community. And certainly the thousands of babies born in that particular room left it as soon as they were able. (Though I will always hold the memory of that night, with my wife and new son, in that jumbled little room, cluttered with boxes of supplies, regardless of whether the room itself exists. It was also Carolyn's 22nd birthday.)
But still, to see the hungry little tractor eat through those partition walls did jar me. A bit. It was as if another weary stone from my past was somehow dislodged, transformed from the concrete to something that could no longer be touched. It was now a photograph, maybe, if we're lucky, or a careful description: but it was no longer a place.
I am thankful to the management of the newspaper for trusting me with this space for so long. And I am thankful to you, Gentle Reader, for letting me whisper these old songs for you, week after week.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who could stand to lose a few pounds.

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