Monday, January 18, 2016

In our own image

When we think of the past, we often remake it in the image of today, as we often remake the early settlers of our area in our own image.
Without realizing it, we make assumptions that fit the patterns we see around us, both patterns of the physical kind, and patterns more internal.
For example: distance. For us, Austin is about two hours away by automobile; San Antonio, a little over an hour. And with a airline ticket, it's possible to have breakfast at home and dinner almost anywhere on the planet.
This was not the case when the first settlers arrived here. A journey to Fredericksburg might take more than a day. Travel from Kerrville to nearby communities was inconvenient and difficult; we'd consider the effort made by settlers to travel to Leakey or Mountain Home quite an expedition. (Most of us would not make the journey.)
And then there are other differences we overlook: communication, for instance. In an age of cell phones and Facebook, it's hard to imagine how difficult it was for early hill country settlers to communicate with anyone over a distance. There were no telephones, and in the early days, no telegraph. Mail, when it came, came on horseback or in a wagon.
Today, when a distant cousin has a new grandbaby, we can see photos of the baby that same day. When a friend on the other side of the planet wants to chat, we can talk with each other -- and see live stream video of each other at the same time.
There are other things we now take for granted: ideas we carry around without considering them. We watched men walk on the moon; we have seen photographs of Pluto. We all know what a Super Bowl is. Many of us have flown a drone. Most of us have purchased an app. There are a thousand concepts we have packed within us that would be totally foreign to a person only a decade ago. In the late 1840s, when Kerrville got its start, concepts such as these would have been impossible to communicate to the inhabitants of our little town.
Thinking about the ideas we carry around, I suppose, comes from a book I've been reading, a work of historical fiction by Stephen Harrigan: "The Gates of the Alamo." Copies are available at Wolfmueller's Books, along with other of his books.
Harrigan does better than most in keeping his characters rooted in the era of their story, without accidently slipping them into ideas which would not have made sense in their time. The book is compelling and well written -- but please remember it's a work of fiction, and should be enjoyed as such.
At 54, I've seen many changes in Kerrville. I'm old enough to remember when IH 10 was completed; before then, a trip to San Antonio went through the middle of every town between here and there. A trip to Junction was a wild ride in the mountains.
I'm old enough to remember the Charles Schreiner Bank, there on the corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets -- and I remember Charles Schreiner's son, Louis, at his desk in the bank. He was very old when I saw him there, but still.
I remember when freight trains came to Kerrville. My father, in our early days here, helped unload groceries from freight cars when he worked as the advertising director for the Evans Foodway chain of grocery stores.
I remember folks water skiing in the little "lake" in Louise Hays Park. My parents were among them, and I remember riding in the boat as they skied there.
I remember a television that picked up 3, sometimes 4, stations. The reception was never all that good. I remember when we had one radio station, which was housed in a little building next to a tall tower in the middle of a plowed field on Junction Highway, just past Harper Road. I loved listening to "Ask your neighbor" each Saturday morning; I recognized the voices of most of the callers to the show.
The world was larger then, and slower. There were many social ideas then that would not be acceptable today. The past is a foreign country, and it did not speak the same language as we speak today, and it certainly wouldn't understand many of our ideas.
It's a mistake to think of the settlers in our area as we think of ourselves.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native "of a certain age." This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 16, 2016.

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