It’s funny how in a couple of generations things can be forgotten, lost in time.
Traditions, places, faces.
Yet, when revisiting them it reawakens something we’ve never really lost.
The first time I visited far west Texas, I was sixteen. I wasn’t truly present to the family road trip, but I do remember the crisp air and the cool summer nights,the vistas and endless horizon, and the mountains sprawling like a distant memory.
Fast forward nine years. This time I was listening. This time, I touched link after link of connections to a time before myself. Somehow, this place felt ingrained into me from childhood stories and people I hazily remember.
On our trip we found the ranch my great-grandparents lived and worked on. Their ranch house happened to sit within viewing distance of the mansion facade for the movie set of the Giant. From the road, you can see a few lonely timbers still standing.
Here, my dad reminisced at the general supply store- Livingston’s- where he bought his first cowboy hat. We explored the Marfa Cemetery and found my great-great grandmother Maggie’s resting place. Come to find out, her great-great-great-granddaughter would share her birthday 137 years later. Yet another link that made me feel happy. Happy that a part of her would live on, even if it was just me telling my niece in the future that she shared in such an expansive family past.
On the side of a mountain between Ft.Davis and Marfa, I sat eating chuckwagon-inspired food at Bloys Campmeeting, where generations of my family have gathered for a little over a century. My father talked about the camp meeting with such vivid childhood memories. The strangest part was as we sat eating, we sat as outsiders. My dad’s history the only window at which we could peek into this family heritage. I felt like I could know these people, I should’ve perhaps in a different life, but I didn’t. So we enjoyed our dutch oven biscuits and bbq brisket, were grateful, and left for our Airbnb in Ft. Davis.
This past weekend was my grandmother’s birthday. Once again, I felt myself steeped in strong memories. This time they were partly my own and partly long before my time. In all honesty, we don’t get to visit this small town of my childhood summers anymore. Life has gotten busy, that far-too-complicated kind of busy that truly doesn’t make any sense in the grand scheme of things. Surely we should always have time for these kinds of places? Such wonderful places that hold such big parts of who we are, and yet we let life sweep us along- further and further away from them.
As we celebrated her day, I sat trying to hold onto the threads that tied me to her and the town I loved so much. Up until I was 12, we’d visit the grocery store my great-grandparents owned there. I’d gladly wake up before sunrise and drive through the sleepy town to help open the store. My great-grandfather would set to work in the meat market, his meat saw loud and terrifying to a little girl who wanted to keep all her fingers. My great-grandmother and grandmother set up the registers and made sure the shelves were stocked. I’d proudly take the task of unrolling the flag and placing it back outside and flipping the NOW OPEN sign over as soon as the clock struck 8. I remember making cattle runs in the evening- feeding and counting cows while avoiding the snapping jaws of ambling geese (much scarier then than they are now). I remember the wonderful home cooked dinners I haven’t tasted from their hands in over a decade. Who knew I’d miss its comfort? I remember the way it felt when we would fall asleep from contented exhaustion. I don’t remember thinking too much, only being happily busy all day, loved, and enthralled by a world so vastly different from my own.
Who knew all these things would fall further and further away into hazy subconscious, and be the one thing that I would cling to unknowingly as an adult- hoping to recreate it one day in my own way.
My grandparents and their parents and so on and so on have been reminding me of how simple life can be. Their memories have reignited my own journey to build a simpler lifestyle, and because of that realization, I miss them beyond words. I wish I could ask them so many questions- even the ones that I never got the chance to know. They hold so much knowledge that I would love to be able to call them up sometimes. Yet now that they are gone, I just find myself scrambling for it in books and on the internet, hoping that my intuition will be enough. They lived it without thinking, and goodness knows I think too much.
I get whiffs of them in little moments. When I smell that sweet hay smell that follows livestock. A certain taste of cheese that they carried in their store can bring me back in a wave of memories.
My dad finds it in homemade plum jam and West Texas honey. In worn-in leather and dry mountain air. We both are reaching back to them for these sweet moments. A link to their awareness of the land around them, their love of working with their hands, their recipes passed down from decades of trial-and-error, and their love of family and community. In many ways, with their passing we let that piece of ourselves be forgotten. We didn’t take the time to let them teach us, or we simply just took it for granted as the world changed. And that simplicity, well, hopefully we’ll figure it out again soon. It might not look the same as it did in our memories, but hopefully it will be something just as fulfilling.
**Since I know many of you follow for progress on the Airstream– have no fear, things are coming along and an update is coming soon! Sadly, I’ve just been under the weather- which really isn’t a good excuse, but that’s all I got 😉