I love taking back roads. Whenever I have a choice, I avoid the Interstates and wend my way through small towns, past open fields and two-pump gas stations, everyday yard sales, friends chatting over the hood of a pick up, churches--big, little, and behemoth, one-room cafes, over creeks, rivers, and bayous, mountains, mesas, and windblown plains. It's a visual feast.
Yesterday I spent all day driving through Texas. I've driven quite a few of the Texas backroads, but these were all new to me. Just the town names in Texas are food for thought. Yesterday saw Temple, Bangs, Santa Anna, Vidor, Sweetwater, Winnie, Zephyr, Goldthwaite, Lampasas, Energy, Democrat, and Blanket. But for some reason, the one that tickled me most was East Jim Ned Creek. . .not to be confused with plain old Jim Ned Creek a little farther up the road.
Here are some of the things I saw yesterday: Green fields and flowering trees! Spring is coming in Texas, and for someone living through New Mexico's six-year drought, seeing green fields just plain lifted my spirits. Baby sheep and lambs, alpaca, llama, horses and ponies, longhorn cattle, and dairy cows--all out on the fields. And, of course, the occasional armadillo.
It took all day to drive across Texas--almost 900 miles! From oil country to plains, then cactus and mesa, gradually into rolling hills and live oak, and finally down to the bayou. I loved every minute of it--always have. I was never one of those kids who only wanted to get where we were going. And even now, halfway between where I've come from and where I'm going is where I'm happiest to be.
My only disappointment yesterday was not making it to Houston in time to see the Rothko Chapel. Thirty years it's been on my bucket list. I hope it's not there another thirty more. But if solace and beauty is why people visit the Rothko Chapel, I had more than my fair share on my drive. Because I was taught on the Price family road trips that every place we visit gives us the opportunity to learn a new way to see. Sometimes it's art, but mostly it's life.
The past two days, I have been reminded of the importance of simplicity. In Fort Sumner, New Mexico, I stopped in at the Billy the Kid Museum, where I met Don and Lula Sweet. His parents moved to Melrose, New Mexico, in 1907, and the family has been there ever since. The couple, now in their early 80s, run the wonderfully eclectic museum begun by his dad with enthusiasm, candor, and a simple grace. While their wide-ranging collection--from typewriters to tractors--reminds us of life as it used to be, it was the Sweets themselves who were the highlight. His stories of "batching" it on the railroad or growing up on a remote ranch and getting stuck on their one and only trip into town to go to the movies were a delight. He quietly pointed out the typed order to stop the trains on a late November day in 1963 to honor our fallen president. But it was the couple's quiet devotion to one another and to their museum that most impressed me--reminding me that the big wide world with all its choices might be blinding us to the simple wisdom of finding a person you love, a place you love to live, and a job you love to do--and making life your own.
Yesterday, in almost every small town, I saw people stopping to talk--while carrying groceries, filling up the tank, heading to work. Small town life depends on relationships, and it struck me that no one seemed to busy to stop and have a chat. I want to remember that. I want to remember never to be too busy to stop and talk to a friend. And yesterday I did. Because other than the drive, the best part of my day was talking to my friend Cynthia, who graciously volunteered to accompany me on this first leg of my journey to New Orleans. You see, it's Mardi Gras this weekend in New Orleans, and I was a little scared to go alone. I'm not big on crowds, I don't drink--and so, heading to the world's biggest party was a little daunting. Cynthia's enthusiastic, "I'll go!" has turned into an opportunity for me to remember to stop and talk to a friend.
Yesterday we both talked a lot about our dads, whom we both lost in our early thirties. Cynthia's dad raised four kids alone, and taught her to love life, believe in herself, and take on the world. Turns out that, like my dad, her dad loved to cook, too. He built his own smokehouse, baked doughnuts from scratch, stuffed his own sausages, cooked up frog legs caught in a nearby creek. I think our dads would have liked one another a lot--two men who never forgot how to love life.
Yesterday, I loved life a lot. Driving across Texas with a friend, remembering that it's never too late to remember what we've always known--that life really is a lot simpler than we make it these days. I knew that when I was a little girl who loved leaving Hollywood for a backroads adventure. I'm grateful that this road trip is reminding of that now.