I wrote this piece back in 2008 for publication in my hometown newspaper, The Grand Saline Sun. I no longer live in Grand Saline, and some of the things I wrote about have changed, but in general it is still relevant. A reader commented on this post earlier today and reminded me of our hometown back when we were growing up. Nostalgia got the better of me, so I am posting this as the first in a multi-part series called “My Hometown.” I will feature pieces not only about Grand Saline, but hopefully hometowns from all over submitted by guest bloggers. See information about contributing after the piece.
My Hometown Series #1 – Do You Remember?
Do you remember it — the sound that the big brass latch made when you pressed it? Do you remember the squeaky hinge on the big wooden door? Do you remember the sound of the small bell that alerted the clerk when a customer came in? What about the creaking of the hardwood floors that always seemed to shine no matter how many feet walked over them day after day? Do you remember the store even being there?
When I was a young boy – long before my mother, sister and I moved to Grand Saline – I always looked forward to coming to town to visit my great-grandmother, Marie Sharp and my great great-aunt, Hallye Watson. One of the reasons I liked coming to town so much is that, without fail, Miss Hallye (as she was known to all her former students) would take my sister and me to town with her when she and my grandmother had errands to run. Once they had finished what they had to do at the bank or the Post Office, we would make the short walk down Main Street to the W & W Department Store. I remember everything about that store as if I had been in it this morning. The latch, the squeaky hinge, the bell, the wood floors and even the smell — yes, I remember that smell that is impossible to describe and yet is so vivid to me all these years later.
There was a charm about Grand Saline back then. That squeaky hinge could have been on just about any door in Downtown. Perry Brothers, K. Woolen’s, Jarvis’ or Darby’s Department store, they were all there. I remember getting Ice Cream at The Emporium and a fountain Coke at City Pharmacy. I remember sitting outside on the hot sidewalk while my mom, grandmother or aunt went into The Smart Shop or The Gazebo. I even remember Tolley Wimpey’s bench. It was a 1950’s town in a 1980’s world.
As I grew older I made memories walking with friends downtown during the Salt Festival. It lasted all week long back the and there were tons of people in town. On the one occasion I was exempt from final exams in middle school, I remember walking down to the Saline Café for lunch and eating a chili cheeseburger. When I was in high school I swept and mopped Darby’s Department Store after closing and washed the windows and mowed the grass by the railroad tracks on Saturdays. I remember seeing Mr. Maciel and Mr. Ellis standing in front of their storefronts talking to customers.
Back then we still had The Show. When the Johnson’s owned it, I helped out at the snack bar a few times. I didn’t care that I wasn’t getting paid – I got free drinks and popcorn and when it wasn’t real busy I got to go upstairs in the projection booth and watch the movie from there. When the show was over I got to take home as much popcorn as I could carry. I remember all of these things.
What I don’t remember from back then is empty buildings and empty streets. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s just getting older and wanting to remember things more fondly than reality would allow, but in my memories there always seems to be something going on downtown. In my memories there are always people. In my memories Grand Saline is always open for business.
I work until 7pm these days. By the time I arrive home around 8, the streets are quiet and the shops are closed. If it weren’t for our restaurants, the movie store and Brookshire’s, the entire town would be down for the night.
Why the change? What’s the difference between the Grand Saline in my memory and our present day home?
Where did the people go and what happened to the bustle of activity? It can’t be that the world just simply passed us by.
We’ve all heard the stories. Years ago, Sam Walton wanted to put one of his little stores in Grand Saline, but in a fog of short-sightedness, Grand Saline said, “No.” So, old Mr. Walton said, “Ok, I’ll just put one of my stores on either side of Grand Saline and choke the life out of it.” Who knows how much of that is really true and how much is legend, but whatever the case is – however true or false the story may be – the fact remains that somewhere along the line, Grand Saline lost what luster it may have once had and after that may have lost its will to live.
I’m not naïve. I know that change is inevitable. Nothing ever stays the same. But, I also know that whether change is good or bad largely depends on how it is dealt with. I’m not much for believing in an unalterable destiny that takes us down a path not of our own choosing. In other words, we don’t have to simply settle for something less that what we want because someone else tells us that’s the way it is.
There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years about bringing Grand Saline “back from the dead” so to speak. Our town has been named a Main Street City. We even had the First Lady of Texas come and make the presentation. Some money has been handed out and several noticeable changes have taken place to the look of the downtown area. We now have a very nice gazebo across from the pavillion and the library. At first I thought it was misplaced so close to the train tracks, but then I accepted that as part of the quirky charm Grand Saline still has.
I was happy to read that Mr. Darby has donated his building and that it will be used for a museum. I think that is a great place for one and offers plenty of space. If it is done right it can be an interesting look at how this town sprang up in the middle of nowhere and how a little part of us and our history travels around the world every day with that little girl holding the umbrella. It still fascinates people who don’t live here when I tell them there’s enough salt under Grand Saline to supply the world with salt for 20,000 years. “Are you serious?”, is generally their answer. Do we find our home interesting, or is Grand Saline just a place to be from? Maybe some of that fascination is what we need.
As fascinating as the town is, even more so are some of the folks who live here. In a time when veterans of World War II are leaving us more and more each day, we need to take the time to cherish the ones who are still with us. They are as much a part of what makes this town unique as any of those old stores or what lies under our streets. Let’s not let them and their memories go without capturing them. Recently, National Public Radio traveled around the country with a mobile recording studio letting people tell their stories and there were some pretty interesting ones told. Perhaps we should consider a project like that here in Grand Saline. Not just for our veterans to tell their stories, but for anyone who wants to share their memories from home. It would be a sad day if we let anymore of them go unshared.
Surely I can’t be the only person thinking about these things. There must be someone else out there who doesn’t want to see Grand Saline simply wither away. Oh yes, I’ve complained about it many times. But, you know, your home town is a little like your family – it’s OK for you to make fun of it and complain about it, but you’ll fight anyone else who does. Let’s do something now before it’s too late. Let’s get people back to town. Let’s give people a reason to come TO Grand Saline and not just come THROUGH Grand Saline. There’s only one movie theater in Van Zandt county now – shouldn’t there be another one? First Monday is only 11 miles away – how about an antique shop or two? I like to bowl – do you?
We can do this, you know that, don’t you? We don’t have to resign ourselves to mediocrity. All it takes is the ‘want to’ to get it done. Yes, it will take some work. Yes, it might cost a little something. No, it won’t happen overnight. But, it absolutely can happen if we want it bad enough!
For all my gripes and complaints, I don’t want this town to die. And, the reason I don’t want it to die is because of those memories I talked about. Those memories are part of what made me who I am. Those memories are part of all of us – when they’re gone, so are we. Let’s not let that happen.
Do you remember?
If you would like to contribute to the “My Hometown” series, or be a guest blogger on any topic, please email me — firstname.lastname@example.org