When I was a child, my father worked on an oil exploration crew that moved from one small Texas town to another. While my mother busied herself packing up the house every six months, I excitedly looked forward to our next adventure. After a big moving van showed up and loaded our belongings, we drove away in our Ford, or occasionally a Chevrolet. Never a Buick. As my parents explained, “We’re not made out of money.”
During my early years, we moved from Schulenburg to Beeville and then to Navasota, Fort Stockton, Denver City, McCamey, Mexia, and Palestine, with a stint in red-dirt Alabama thrown in for variety. My parents rented modest houses in these towns. Some had two bedrooms, which meant my older brother and I had to share. I remember one house had concrete floors that my mother scrubbed and waxed each week until they shone like glass. Immaculate. That’s how she kept those houses that belonged to other people.
When you move frequently, you don’t collect a lot of stuff, but with the help of Green Stamps pasted into little books my mother managed to collect a few things she displayed with pride—an oval Fostoria coin-glass dish, a lattice-patterned glass relish dish, a green Depression glass candy dish on a pedestal, and a lamp with a glass shade decorated with yellow flowers. All that glass, packed and unpacked twice a year.
But my mother never planted the flowers I longed for. Why bother, she said, when we won’t be there to see them bloom? So I admired the flowerbeds of the “rich” people in town and vowed to live in a pretty house with lots and lots of flowers when I grew up.
With rent houses getting scarce, my parents bought a mobile home to move from town to town. Only they didn’t call it a mobile home. They called it a trailer house, which is exactly what it was.
We moved to McCamey, Texas, in the summer of 1963. We arrived to find our trailer already perched on concrete blocks on a concrete pad in the flattest, bleakest, brownest trailer park in the world. Ten feet by sixty with a black trailer hitch in the front. White metal siding with turquoise trim. Three black metal steps that led to the metal door. Manufactured paneling that gave off stinging fumes. But it was shiny and new and we were the first people to ever live there.
My bare feet soon discovered that the tiny patch of brown grass out front was infested with goat head stickers. Those things will bury half an inch into the tender foot of an seven-year-old and continue to ache long after they’ve been removed. I howled when my father pulled them out and was told I couldn’t go barefoot outside anymore. I’d heard stories of lush green lawns as soft as carpet, but I couldn’t imagine how that could be true.
In the excitement of getting settled, I barely noticed a circle of green vines on the ground near the front door. But when I got up the next morning, something magical had happened. A circle of brilliant blue flowers—Heavenly Blue morning glories—had blossomed overnight. Finally. Flowers.
Someone had taken a spade and dug into that white, dry, caliche dirt, hard enough to break a shovel, until it turned as soft as talcum powder. They’d surrounded the circle with bricks, planted morning glory seeds, and watered them in the scorching heat. Then somehow the vines had survived the bitter desert winter to bloom again for me.
My mother smiled at my excitement and told me I’d have to get up early if I wanted to enjoy them. The flowers bloom early and only once, she told me. Then the blossoms die and fall off the vine in the hot sun, and new flowers come out the next morning. Temporary beauty, but beauty nonetheless.
I enjoyed living in a house with flowers until a blue norther’ came in mid-November. I awoke to find that my morning glory vines had turned brown and died. A week later President John F. Kennedy was shot dead in a motorcade in Dallas. Before my mother had time to tell me, I read the headline in a newsstand.
I found beauty in McCamey, Texas. Beauty for a little girl who craved it. But I also learned that the world can sometimes be an ugly place. All these years later I still wonder if the person who planted morning glories in that barren place lived there long enough to see them bloom.
I still live in a sometimes-ugly world, and I still crave beauty. I live far from West Texas on an emerald-green island in the Pacific Northwest in a pretty house with lots of flowers. In bitter November our flowers will die, but I’ll be here to see them bloom again in the spring.