When i was a boy, about 5 or so, i remember having this white Mickey Mouse sweater for a short season. I also had a Grandmother who drove nothing but Cadillacs and in the period below, it happened to be real pristine white one. You know, not one you could eat or drink in. We used to take these long drives together and on one particular we were headed out to East Texas. Tyler, i think. She and Papa stopped by the roadside to do some business and my brother and cousin and i got out and were doin the mess around. There was a hill by the roadside with pines at the top and there was a nice shiny stream of red clay where the water from a recent rain was coming on down the hill. Looked like nature’s version of Wet N Wild so in a very short amount of time a plan was hatched, one that would land me in some good trouble and would lead to the ultimate demise of my white Mickey Mouse sweater that i just so happened to be wearing that day. I remember launching myself face first down the clay slide, i remember realizing that my sweater was now orangish red and i remember my Grandmother’s face once she saw it. Nothing else though. The memory just stops.
And then the night before i turned 34 i had this dream. My Grandmother and i were speaking at a university together. She was leading the charge and she was telling everyone that she knew what they had done to their Mickey Mouse sweaters. And that many people have made similar mistakes, even her Grandson, and she turned to me and said, “Haven’t you Dylan? Tell them about what happened to you and your sweater.” I stood to talk and that’s the last thing i remember. Once i woke up i decided to go for a drive. I headed for Grand Saline.
I called Aunt Roy to get reminded of some family history on the way. She said that Grandmother’s first job was as a soda jerk at a pharmacy and that she also worked at Kay Woolens. I headed for the buildings where those businesses once were and parked on Main Street. Just to be sure i was in the right place, i stepped into the local paper and met a woman named Ann, who runs the paper alongside her husband. She had these bright blue eyes and reminded me of my 2nd grade teacher, the one who yelled “SHUT UP DYLAN!!!!” when i wouldn’t stop talking. About like i type. Anyway, she let me know which building used to be which, we exchanged a few more pleasantries and then i tipped my hat and headed out to stand in front of what was once Kay Woolens and play make believe. I was looking at the sidewalk and thinking if my Grandmother’s foot steps had left footprints of pink paint, who many would i see going into that old store and around the town for that matter? Some of the sidewalks would probably be covered in paint. And on the outer edges they would be different sized feet from her younger years. I bet she even used to skip a long time ago before i was born and that would be a noticable pattern. Little sporadic painted footsteps with trajectory drops splattering forward. I thought about all this for a few and then looked down and saw that the sidewalk was sadly still grey, like most all the rest of them.
Across the street is the pharmacy and it still has the sign out front. I walked in to find a couple of tables full of old timers playing dominoes and they offered me a cup and took turns talking to me while they chewed on cigars and watched their hand. Said since i was driving through and thinking about my folks and the way things were i could look around the drug store, which has become a shrine to the town’s history. Old photos, books, farm tools and an upper shelf filled with stetson and cowboy hats. Each one had a name tag on it in memory of it’s past owner, all of whom have departed from this life. When i got back around front they told me if i wanted to know about Grand Saline i might wanna talk to this fella who’d just walked on. He introduced himself as Ed Bailey and i shook hands and told him i was Dylan Hollingswrth. He squinted and said,” Then i bet you’re kin to Harold Dean arentcha?” My throat got tight and i said that he was my Grandfather.
Turns out Ed runs the old schoolhouse mueum and next thing i know im in his old Ford driving across town with him to go and see what we can pull up. Ed’s been farming sweet potatoes his whole life and was blessed with the ability to learn and remember damn near everything about everyone so of course he knew my Grandmother and the Stough Sisters. En route i learned that the old schoolhouse had burned down but they rebuilt and i found it well put together with desks from the 1920’s, letter jackets from the 50’s and 60’s, old books and class photos. Enough to fill up a couple giant rooms and one of the more carefully curated collections i’ve seen. He disappeared into the back and i found my way to a wall of World War II Veterans from Van Zandt County. A whole grid of photos of many who fought and died and lived through the great war. My Papa had some really handsome black wavy hair pokin out of his naval cap and we stared at each other for a minute, both of us smirking about something or another. When Ed came back he was holding school rosters for my Grandmother and her sisters, some of which had black smudges from a fire a few years back. We made some photo copies for me to give to cousins and slowly made our way back to to the domino table across town.
There, i sat in with the fellas for a few, drank another styrofoam cup of coffee and finally asked where i could get a good plate lunch. They sent me on to the Dairy Mart where a young gal with too much make up sized me up and wondered if i was her ticket out of this town. She served me up some chicken fried steak with bedroom eyes on the side, both of which left me feeling pretty good and helped me make it to my last stop- the empty grass lot where my Great Grandmother’s house once stood. Hadn’t been back there since 1985 but i still knew it just by the slope of the land alone. I picked up and pocketed a couple rocks from what was once the driveway, talked to the old man next door who was eating pineapple cake outside in the warmth of his old pick up truck and then slowly made my way out of town, driving past dead deer on the road, confederate flags and crosses in front yards, water towers with peeling Indians painted on them and reluctantly heading back towards what is now. I did make one last stop though, at an old resale shop in Terrell where i was just SURE i’d find a Mickey Mouse sweater or a GS letter jacket to complete the oddysey. My past, present and future was about to tangibly fuse and man, it would make a great story. I got up to the front though and the OPEN light was on but the door was locked. Now is rarely as good as yesterday was.