Monday, February 8, 2016

A hard journey

Stevie Smith
My family was reminded this week how fragile life can be as we traveled to Sonora to attend the funeral of my cousin's 14-year-old daughter. The teenager had been a passenger in a truck which was involved in an accident; she was the only one to perish. Her name was Stevie Smith. It was a sad day, and it felt as if most of the little town of Sonora mourned with my cousin and her family.
Traveling west on IH10, through the rough hills of Kimble County, to Sonora -- and on such a heavy errand -- gave me plenty of time to think, to look at the land passing by, and to wonder about the lives we pursue here in what many would call a harsh country, and of the lives of those who came to these hills before us.
If you look past the highway, and the power lines which now jog alongside, it's not hard to imagine how this area looked a century ago. The dry hills looked very similar to how they look today, the few water-filled creeks looked just as lovely then.
Those settlers who first came here saw opportunity. You and I might see a unforgiving landscape, with few amenities. They saw something more. The land over which we drove Wednesday has seen many travelers, and for many centuries; how different it must have looked in different times. For the most part, the land has not changed, but how we see it has changed. A century ago, aside from differences in vegetation, it probably looked the same. While few may have ever considered it a paradise, many saw hope and a future there.
What's different, of course, is how much easier life is today than it was a hundred years ago. The hundred-mile journey from Kerrville to Sonora took about ninety minutes, and we were fairly comfortable the whole trip. The four of us sat quietly together in the car, each lost in heavy thoughts. The miles passed by quickly, eighty per hour, but the journey felt long.
What's not different from a century ago is the sorrow one feels when losing a relative, especially one so young. And while it's rarer these days than a century ago for a young person to pass away, the hurt is just the same. A century ago it was not uncommon for a family to lose several children before they reached adulthood. I know it must have hurt just as much then as it does now.
My cousin married into a ranching family that has been a part of Sutton county for generations. They're good folks, and I've never heard an unpleasant thing from any of them. They have ranched there and made a success after much hard work and dedication. They have contributed much to the story of that place.
I couldn't help but wonder as we drove along the interstate how many other stories I was passing. That old house in front of the bluff: who lived there when it was new? What had they hoped when they built the place? Did children long ago call that house home?
I saw a rock fence and wondered about the hands that built it. I saw a windmill and speculated how many generations had been working on it to keep it running, to repair it after storms, to patch its worn parts.
Passing Roosevelt I saw a building that looked like a church or a school. (It was the Roosevelt Presbyterian Church, built in 1941.) Plenty of stories at that place.
We tarry here only briefly. The stories we make and the stories we live help make sense of it all. I suppose that's one of the reasons I like history so much.
If you're the praying kind, I'd appreciate a prayer or two for the Smith family of Sonora. They're strong and have lots of help, but the days ahead will be hard.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 6, 2016.

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