The same is true for not-so-good-times as well but why dwell on that fact. When I was young and full political piss and vinegar I asked my father why he was not as motivated as I to change the world. In somewhat more vulgar terms. He took a second to respond and finally smiled and said “I’ve been down that road and now it is time to relax”. I was disappointed with his answer. Now fifty years on, it makes more sense to me. There is a quote from Churchill that could be added here but best to let you look that up for yourself.
Here in Texas the rural landscape is dotted with old buildings and machines. These days it is fashionable to photograph abandoned structures. Some are quite beautiful as ruins. My interest in abandoned places is not about the structures themselves but the people who inhabited them. Except for monuments, buildings generally serve a fundamental human purpose for shelter or common gatherings. People have always defined buildings through use.
There are lots of interesting places to explore on the Texas back roads. Many are on private property and inaccessible but a few are visible from public areas. They draw my attention immediately. This old post office and general store is just off the side of a county road. Judging by the construction it was probably built in the early twentieth century. From the artifacts and signage around the buildings it was still being used up until the nineteen sixties or even seventies.
The simple false front mercantile building with attached residence was constructed of rough sawn lumber from a nearby sawmill. It would not have been out of place on the frontier of the nineteenth century. The handmade wrought iron work was almost certainly done by a local blacksmith. All this is evidence of a community improving life for itself. This place was part of a world of personal relationships where friends were people you looked in the eye when you spoke.
Today many people commute twenty five miles every day without a second thought. A hundred years ago that may have been something families did once a week if they owned an automobile or maybe once a month by wagon. Places like a local post office were very important. They provided a portal to the world for rural families.
Artifacts around the building provide a sense of another era far from our daily lives. I doubt many people today ever see cigarette advertising stickers such as those on the doors. For that matter you won’t find swinging screen doors on most grocery stores. I doubt if people still use general delivery mail service outside of wilderness areas. They are just the small things of daily life that are swept away and forgotten.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that life is a journey full of unexpected twists. One day on a whim or boredom, I drove four hundred miles from San Antonio to the West Texas crossroads town of Marathon. I pass through Marathon once or twice a year on my way to Big Bend. It’s a good place to stop for coffee. In fact it is the last place to stop for anything for more than a hundred miles when heading into the Bend.
Sitting on the patio of my regular coffee joint was an old man playing the banjo with such eloquence that I had to sit down and listen. Funny, none of the other patrons seemed to notice him there. He was playing and singing tunes straight out of the East Coast folk scene of the 1940s and 50s. Given where he was in far West Texas it was like he had beamed in from another place and time.
That is how I made the acquaintance of Billy Faier. He was genuinely a veteran folk singer, friend of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, traveling companion of Woodie Guthrie, contemporary of Pete Seeger and practitioner of progressive politics. He was old school in ways that are hard to comprehend for the twenty first century. Now at eighty four or eighty five years old he was transplanted to another place altogether.
We spoke for half an hour. He had a bright cheerful manner with plenty of stories which he punctuated with simply beautiful solo banjo music. I bought a couple CDs and told him I’d see him next time I was out that way. Sadly he died before I got back to Marathon. I won’t forget him anytime soon.