a classic movie moment: Drake McHugh, played by a youthful Ronald Reagan, wakes
up in a hospital bed to find that his legs have been amputated. Staring wild-eyed
at the place where his legs should be, he screams, "Where's the rest of me?" That
melodramatic scene from Kings Row kept running through my mind on a recent
trip to Texas.|
My stepfather's parents lived in a tiny East Texas town
called Keene, and I always
looked forward to visiting them. Their house had screened porches front and back,
with a big table where we ate in warm weather and a glider on which my sister
and I swung faster and faster until some grownup yelled at us to stop. Best of
all, I got to sleep in the attic, beside a window that looked out over my grandmother's
iris beds and the fields that rolled off beyond the fence.
To a kid from
the treeless, pancake-flat plains of West Texas, the countryside around Keene
seemed foreign and exotic, so lush as to be practically Edenic. There were woods
to wander in and little streams to throw rocks into. And there were hills to climb
– minimalist hills that probably wouldn't even register on a topographical map,
but they kept the horizon from being ankle-high and ruler-straight as it was back
Because it played an important role in my life for a good many years,
I decided to pay a visit to Keene when I was in Texas recently. I hadn't been
there in years, so I expected to find things changed. But when I pulled off the
highway into the town, things got weird.
Keene was gone. More precisely,
the Keene I remembered had been replaced with something I didn't recognize. I
drove around for most of an hour, finding nothing that looked familiar.
A street sign reading "Old Betsey Road" rang a bell, but the Old Betsey Road I
remembered was an unpaved country lane, while this was a broad, roaring river
of cars. After several uneasy minutes, I recognized the stone gateway at the entrance
to the little Seventh-Day Adventist college in the middle of town. But the cluster
of modern buildings beyond the gateway looked nothing like the college I remembered,
and the street leading up to the campus – the street where the post office used
to be – seemed to have vanished.
I wanted to find my grandparents' house,
but I had no idea where to look for it. I suppose I could have asked for directions
("Do you remember some people named Young who used to live somewhere around here
in a white house with a glider on the front porch and some irises out back and
a bed in the attic?"), but I didn't. Maybe I was afraid they'd tell me the house
had been torn down years ago. Besides, I was beginning to hear poor, legless Drake
McHugh screaming from that hospital bed, and it was giving me the creeps. I drove
back to the interstate and headed for someplace familiar.
So what does
all this mean? I'm still trying to sort it out, but here's what I've concluded
There are three good reasons for saving older buildings.
First, they're good to look at, and we should save them because they give our
communities grace-notes of beauty, variety and visual texture. Second, they have
an almost infinite capacity for reuse, and we should save them because it's good
sense (and sound ecological practice) to do so. Third, they are tangible links
with history, and we should save them as a means of maintaining connections with
a past that we need to remember. As I get older, this last reason seems increasingly
More than a century ago, John Ruskin said this about
architecture: "We may live without her and worship without her, but we cannot
remember without her." Remembering is essential, and the task of avoiding amnesia
is much easier when we can see the past and touch it and live with it. There's
something incredibly powerful about being able to walk into a building and say,
"This is where it happened, within these walls, right here."
what a landmark does: It tells you, "Right here." Without landmarks to guide you,
you get lost. Everybody knows that, but somehow I never grasped the real truth
of it until I looked for part of me in Keene and couldn't find it.
Historic Preservation, Mar/Apr 1996
Published with Permission, Courtesy Dwight
Shoe Horses, Don't They? March
16 , 2005 Guest Column
Subject: Keene, Texas
just wanted to comment on the remarks by Dwight Young about the little town of
I grew up in that town, and though less time passed before
I returned for visits, I can certainly understand Dwight's dismay at seeing that
the "old Keene" was gone.
The town of Keene is a living thing, and all
things living change and grow to accommodate their own particular needs. We look
at Keene as a place frozen in time, but the reality is that while the memories
belong in our domain, the town does not. I still see the ghosts of old houses
on the lots where they once stood. The tiny house where I was conceived, the house
where we lived when I learned to ride a bike, the big two story place that I last
called home before I married and moved to Houston, all are gone now. I find myself
wishing I could have bought them all, and preserved them forever.
parts of Keene are still there for me. My grandmother's house is still there,
the walls covered with the flagstones she mortared into place so long ago. I can
visit my Aunt Rachel, and drive across town to the Hillsboro addition to see my
Uncle Wesley. Their houses are comfortingly familiar, though they seem a little
I guess that's because I'm a little bigger now.
things grow and change to accommodate life and living. But love and family ties
still bind our hearts, and call us through the time and miles to "home".
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you.
- Sincerely, Cathy
T. Martin, Conroe, Texas, June 30, 2005
Keene, Texas | Texas
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