Uncle Robert had a grocery store there, and it was always where I wanted to head first whenever we visited that little town with the geographically challenged name. For if you could maneuver your way down those narrow aisles and one-cart wide wooden plank floors, at the back of the store there was his meat counter where my uncle would always wink, swear me to silence, and then slice me off a generous chunk of Nemechek bologna, as wonderful as Turkish delight to my pre-teen taste buds.
My cousin Bobbie worked in the store sometimes, when he wasn’t riding his motorcycle or playing ball down at the sandlot near the edge of town, that is. Bobbie was a few years older than me, with a smile as wide as the interstate, and he was one of my favorites for when you were with him, something exciting always seemed to happen.
His older sister Cheryl Lynn seemed far more sophisticated in my eyes for she carried herself with all of the polish of a small town princess, plus she knew the words to all of the Beatles songs and had most of their records as well. And Denise, the youngest of the brood, was the happy kid who just wanted to hang around the older cousins, and despite our protestations, usually managed to do so.
My aunt Cora Lee was the real queen of the family, however, for it was clearly my mother’s younger sister who held the clan together. “Get in this house!” she would exclaim whenever we drove up, and then she’d hug each one of us as if there were no tomorrow. We’d visit for a while in the front room, have a slice of her homemade chocolate pie, and then after several good nags on the part of the children, drive on out to the Palladium, an Olympic sized swimming pool that folks came from miles around to enjoy.
And then–far too soon I usually thought–we’d make our way back the fifteen miles or so north to Hillsboro where my grandmother and two more of mother’s sisters and their families lived. (Bobbie once made it there in nine minutes, though his parents didn’t find that out until several years later.)
As the years went by—and as it always will– life changed in that little town, to be sure. A modern and more spacious grocery chain came to the community and pretty soon, my uncle had to close his family run business. Bobbie went off to Vietnam and when he came back he was never quite the same.
Cheryl Lynn married a Czech boy from town and it took a while for her Church of Christ family—by far the most religious branch of our extended clan– to figure out what to do with that. Cora Lee got cancer and died way too early, and Denise moved to the city, never really to come back. And the Palladium was simply abandoned, I think, eventually falling into ruin before being torn down altogether.
Others came in, of course, and figured out how to build on the Bohemian heritage in the area to make the little town of West, Texas, a must-stop along the interstate for kolaches and other Czech delicacies. And to serve the farming community around it, someone built a fertilizer plant in town, not far from the high school and the nursing home.
That plant blew up last night and just as in Boston earlier this week scores were injured with the death count still uncertain. It made me think, however, of what Jesus once said about another accident that long ago killed eighteen when a tower in Siloam collapsed and fell. Those who died, he said, were no more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem…or Dallas…or Houston… or Boston. “But unless you repent,” Jesus went on to say, “you too will all perish.”
All of which should remind us that life indeed is sometimes far more fragile and tenuous than any of us might like to believe. Figuring out faith and getting our priorities in the right places should be job number one for all of us, then, for the truth is that both towns and people can change in an instant, even before you know it.
Likewise, maybe my aunt Cora Lee was right. Maybe we should indeed hug each other sometimes as if there was no tomorrow.