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I left Lake Dallas about 10 am Monday. While breakfasting on pork chops at the Lake Dallas Cafe, I overheard some sage advice from a fellow at the next table, talking about a recent stay in the hospital.
"Man, they gave me a shot - what was it, honey?- Demerol? - I think that's it. Man that stuff makes you old before your time. I was OUT for the rest of the day. Goofy. Couldn't stay awake. And then they wanted to give me another one when I was gettin' out the door, but I said no way - no way. My life is excitin' enough without having to chase a glass of water round the table."
"I dunno, Carl. There's people would pay good money to see that..."
I drove back through Ft. Worth and down to Glen Rose. This is about the northern edge of the hill country, and about as pretty an area as there is anywhere. Not awesome or dramatic like the Rockies or the coast of Maine, but gently green and appealing. Friendly looking.
Come over a hill and the land just smiles at you. Lots of shallow rivers running between low limestone bluffs.
I haven't been here since 1955. Almost 50 years. During the summers of my 8th and 9th year, my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to go off to Glen Lake Methodist Youth Camp. I learned to canoe and fire clay ashtrays and weave a lanyard out of something that looked like blue and white vinyl shoelace material. I was away from home for the first time. It was great.
When I asked in town, they said it was still here, down by the river. I drove right by it without seeing anything, and had to circle around. This is it? What's with all the buildings? They used to have screened shelters back under the trees that we slept in, and there were hinged 4X8 pieces of plywood over the windows, and you had to prop them up with a board. The older kids would come along at night and kick out the boards and beat on the plywood and wake everybody up. Our 'counselor' sometimes slept through the whole thing like a stone.
This place is too small. They've got air conditioning. What's up with that? The sign says "Glen Lake Youth Camp and Adult Retreat Center". Back then adults didn't bother to retreat, they just charged ahead and sent us off to camp.
Then I came around a building and saw the big white cross on the cliff above the river. Yeah, this is the place.
I used to hike up there all the time. And these two swimming pool looking things, they must be the upper and lower lakes. And there's the spring. Doggone if they haven't built a garish waterslide park beside it. And there's Vista Point, where we had evening services. Heck, it's not even a quarter mile down there.
I found the director down by the canoe rack, or she found me, and she filled me in on the local history. Turns out that competition is brisk in the youth camp business, and they've had to expand the facilities until there's hardly any open area left. There used to be lots of room here, to chase around in and raise Cain. It's all so orderly and neat now.
I don't know what I expected. A little slice of my youth preserved here, I guess. It's been too long. Maybe I wanted some palpable, concrete spur to memory, something inspiring. I'd love to be able to write something like Dylan Thomas did, about the place he grew up in, the "farm forever fled from the childless land":
"And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns,
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only..."
But no cigar. This place is just a business, and it's not my business to be here anymore.
I went by the Dinosaur Valley State Park outside of town, thinking to spend the night. But they wanted $23 for that privilege, which was startling to me after paying $10 for a site 6 feet from the lake at Benbrook. What's the attraction? The campground is just a hot green spot in the brush. There's nothing to see here but the dinosaur footprints, and I don't want to see them now.
I saw them when I was 8 years old, and they'll never look any better than they did then.
On the road to Meridian I stopped in a roadside park to go back and get a cola out of the fridge, and got to reading the sign there. Turns out I was standing a quarter mile from the remains of the boyhood home of John Lomax, the collector of folk songs. He left Bosque county at the age of 20 with a pocket full of cowboy ballads, and spent a long career recording and collecting stories and songs from all across the country, culminating in a trip through the south and west in 1939.
He was 72 by then. Some people have such interesting jobs, they just never bother to retire. I remember his name from a songbook I bought in 1964, and I still had it up until last summer when I got rid of all my books.
It was getting to be a long day. I took a look at Meridian State Park, but it was closed, so I came back down here to Lake Whitney. Pretty much full circle for me. I'm gonna lay back here a few days and then go on to Georgetown. I've got to sell that house and get the heck on out of Texas. The weather's starting to warm up, and I don't want to get caught in the oven that is summer here.
What do they call the opposite of a snowbird? A sunbird? That's what I wanna be. Just gotta shake the dust off my wings and fly up north for the summer, and with a little luck I'll get to.
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