Stories in Texas are as steeped in humidity as they are in history.
Recent events, mundane episodes of daily life strain through an unexplained time warp – Shared words age along bands of narrow streets within close-knit towns webbed to rail lines. When trains pass through, the round sound of whistle sepia tones the heated sky. Clouds halt above. The current year fades in decade drips.
Internal textures of individual lives have a way of bleeding through to the surface. It’s the inner connections people have with the land and even when there is economic progress, the past has a way of sweating through aging municipal frameworks. In a strange way, it’s comforting to see the past pushing its way through to the present.
The signs of enlightenment are there for those open enough to accept them. The teachings carry strong on the acrid smell of industry, the local smoked cuisine and in the hot sweetness of carnival caramel corn. White-hot brick walls and penetrating sunlight can’t stop history from fading, either. And for all of this I’m grateful.
The stories, based on blood-rich textures of family ties long gone still travel. The weather, blazing June in Texas, motivates you to seek icy-cold sweet at the Luling Watermelon Thump. Four sweat-drenched days of food, rides, vendors, iced beer and watermelon-themed events from speed eating to seed spitting for distance.
This New York boy is there every year for the amusements and most of all, to learn from surroundings a galaxy apart from what, who made me who I am today. A chance to expand mind horizons, and most important, continue to learn lessons I can carry with me always.
This year at 112 degrees in the shade, tiny town was environed by a blazing heat I have never experienced before. Strangely, I welcomed the challenge. Messages are strongly received twirled among the acrid odor of sulfur which permeates Luling, so I knew the conditions, as harsh as they were, were just yet another wake-up call for yours truly.
As the country artists played on in a distance, as the heat grew bolder, as I walked a dirt road so hot it felt like ash pellets kicked up with my heels, I stopped to consider the wisdom I was gaining this time ’round.
1). How much heat can you stand before you change? Whether you voluntarily move out of your cool, comfort zone or you’re forced out, how much will you need to burn before you move forward? Standing still in the heat of Luling, feeling myself being baked alive, I understood how quickly one can die while stationary. In place. Your true self, the truth of self can rise when the heat does. It can carry you to places you’ve never been just as long as internally, you can remain cool, take the necessary steps to improve. Oh, you’ll hurt, that’s part of the sacrifice, but eventually you will embrace the fire. In the beginning, the burns felt third degree. As time goes on, I yearn for the heat. I’ve learned to look forward to it. C’mon 112, I can handle you.
Old Bill M., outside of Blake’s Restaurant was selling fresh jalapenos from his garden.
“Hey son, want to stop sweating? Eat one of these.” I did. It worked. Not sure why.
2). Many threads go deep. In the front window and inside of the Luling Oil Museum there’s a display of incredible quilts, all of watermelon, Luling and Texas history themes. They are amazing works of art. As I sought air-conditioned shelter at the museum, I stared in wonder at these material arts hung about.
Laurie P, donating her time at the front desk looked up at me, said: “The family threads go deeper.” She smiled. I walked away cooler. And with a lesson.
As most of my blood family is gone, I began to contemplate who was family. What are the rules, checklists I follow to allow someone in my inner circle? What are yours? Family is so much more than you believe. On occasion, you’ll let the wrong person in, however, that’s a misjudgment on your part, not the person you’ve allowed to penetrate.
Without feeling the heat, living the error, you won’t learn or embrace a moment and that’s a mistake. As my dear friend Andrea reminds me consistently: “There are no victims.” I’ve expanded on this sentiment: “All threads are important.” Good or bad, threads expand your quilt. Stepping back, even a bad tapestry possesses a beauty.
3). How white-hot is your ride? It was unfortunate the carnival rides were too unbearable to enjoy this year. They were white-hot to the touch.
Sam M. was working the Tilt-A-Whirl – “Oh, the ride is so much fun, you won’t mind the heat.”
I wondered how many times in my life I had been on a white-hot ride. How I loved the excitement even though the heat was dangerous. How many investors love white-hot rides with their money as they tend to own investments that have already experienced huge run-ups in price, or still fall for hot stock tips, or attach to stories that lose them money because people love stories and find facts too cold.
4). The old man is gone. Outside the Luling antique haven (once the town movie theater), was a creepy old man mannequin that sat in the ticket booth. He has been there for years, rotted by the sun. Holding an aged newspaper. I loved seeing him. He was like an anchor. But he was missing this trip. The booth was empty and I hated it. The change really disturbed me.
Maven P. said: “It was just his time to move on.”
I didn’t want him to “move on” whatever the hell that meant. And I was afraid to ask. I mean, was he thrown away, eaten by rats? What happened? Change can be so incredibly difficult even when the situation we’re in is dangerous to our health and well being. We seek anchors. After awhile, we can’t tell the difference between what is good or bad for us. Until the old man is gone.
We long for familiarity; we despise the thought of one day sitting alone in a ticket booth. We remember them, we yearn for those we love who are now gone. All that remains are dusty images of once was. We move from joy to pain in what feels, like a blink but of course, is much longer. When do you admit – “it’s time to move on?”
Maven assured me I’ll love what’s coming to the booth for the next thump. I’ll trust him. Fool myself that change is good. That the familiar can rot you. Cool sunglasses on “Sam” yes? I’m a missin’ you, Luling Sam.
5). Learn to feel. Again. George T. showed me how to find the most perfect, sweetest yellow-fleshed watermelon.
“You see, ” as he knocked on the outside of a green beauty, “hear that?” The sound was sort of hollow, louder than when he thumped others around it. “That’s how you pick ’em.”
Learn to respect, acknowledge, the sound of sweetness in your life. It could be anything. George was so passionate about my watermelon selection, he was willing to give me a lesson for when I made it back to the “big city” as he called it. Appreciate those who share knowledge with you. Realize how sweet lessons can come from anyone, everyone. Thump the resources of those around you. Make sure to share your wisdom with others. Unfortunately, some knowledge isn’t so sweet, but learn it just the same.
It was another trip. The same trip. But it was different.
The heat was cathartic.
The watermelon was sweeter.
The lessons were timely.
And the train just kept going on through.
Until next year.
The whistle blows.
Cutting through the humidity of what now is past.