Say it’s a sunny, cool spring day, and you don’t have a precise schedule. And say the state highway department is very good about signage, so that narrow roads that lead to tiny and remote country cemeteries are clearly marked. And say that your driver is good with the plan to turn down as many of these narrow roads as you want to take, just so both of you can see what’s there.
That is how I ended up at the Knobbs Springs Cemetery, just a few miles down County Road 305. But the real find down that road was an old wooden church next to the new, brick Knobbs Springs Baptist Church. The narrow white boards could have used a new coat of paint, and the windows might have benefitted from being washed. But, then again, this photo wouldn’t have had nearly the same look, would it?
Knobbs Springs Baptist Church
Knobbs Springs, Texas
This shot of the caretaker’s shack was taken in the same cemetery as yesterday’s photo.
I took several pictures of this simple cinderblock structure. “Why are you taking a picture of that?” one of the day’s companions asked. It just felt like something I needed to shoot. I liked the texture of the walls and the shallow slope of the roof. I liked the way that one side or the other seemed to have been built at a different time. I liked the contrast between its straight walls and the every-which-way angles of the headstones. Maybe I felt sorry for it, the homely building squatting in the middle of the cemetery,overlooked and ignored. But when I was asked the question, I wasn’t able to articulate any of that. All I could say was, “I just like it.”
Old Independence Cemetery
Sometimes when I go to cemeteries, things other than headstones catch my attention. Wildflowers, maybe, or things left at gravesites. I never know what it’ll be, and like to just wander until something catches my attention. On this particular day, in this particular cemetery, the most interesting things to look at were the relics of iron markers around the graves.
This cemetery is old (for Texas, I mean), dating from the early 1820s, and many of the graves were ringed by ornate metal fences. With few exceptions all the parts of the grave-fences were there, but almost none of them still held to their original alignment. And over the years, the metal had taken on a reddish, rough appearance; light-green lichen grew on a few of them. On the first day of March, the bright spring grasses made for a nice contrast, both in color and age.
And, so it was that on this particular day, in this particular cemetery, that contrast was what captured my attention.
Old Independence Cemetery
Dime Box, Texas, is not the funniest town name in America. Traditionally, that honor belongs to Intercourse, Pennsylvania. I prefer Scratch Ankle, Alabama, Gnowbone, Indiana, or even Humptulips, Washington. Nevertheless, Dime Box, as a name, caught my ear, so that’s where I headed the next morning out of College Station.
– William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways
Even though William Least Heat-Moon’s visit to Dime Box was written a while back (Blue Highways was published in 1982), much of his description of the town sounded as though he’d been there earlier the same day as my visit. For example, he describes this scene as “worn brick buildings facing the Southern Pacific tracks.” Maybe that bright aluminum door has been added since his visit, but my guess is that the rest of the block looks much the same as it did the day he drove over to Dime Box from College Station.
Dime Box, Texas
I was a Girl Scout, from early grade school all the way through high school. My Brownie uniform was my only store-bought dress – my mom sewed everything else. She was the Brownie leader; now that it’s too late to find out, I’d really like to know why she decided to take on that responsibility. She was painfully shy, not much of a person who joined something in order to take on a leadership role. In fact, at the time I first joined Brownies and she became the leader, she’d only been driving for a few years. She was never a bold or adventurous person.
(The day my sister ate mushrooms – we’d made a place setting on the seat of the backyard swing, using the mushrooms we’d picked from the grass as plates, and she ate one – we had to take a cab to Dr. Carr’s office to get her stomach pumped. That was it: my dad insisted that it was time my mom learn to drive. She was a tentative driver for the rest of her years. My sister still won’t eat mushrooms. It was a pivotal day in the family history.)
Anyway, Brownie meetings were usually at our house, after school. We lived on 28th Street, just a few blocks from Overton Elementary School; while I do not have a specific memory of this, I suppose all the girls in the troop walked together from school to the meetings. Other than getting to wear that awesome light brown dress, I can’t remember too much about Brownies, but a few things float up if I try:
• Learning to set the table. (It still bothers me if the knife points the wrong way.)
• I was so shy that selling Girl Scout cookies, at 50¢/box, was too much for me. I could barely squeak out a sale pitch to the Strongs or the Simses or the Dennises, neighbors I’d known all my life.
• Sometimes we wore white cotton gloves with our uniforms, for those more formal meetings (whatever they were).
• Our troop took cooking classes at Maxey Community Center. My Certificate of Completion (dated March 30, 1966) is framed and hangs in my kitchen as proof.
• The way we learned to tie a square knot: we sat in a circle, each with a length of white cotton rope that we tied together with our neighbor’s hunk of rope. Then we put the circle of rope behind us and leaned back against it. Knots that were tied wrong slipped apart and the incompetent knotter would pitch backward.
So I progressed onward, to Cadette, Junior, Senior levels. For many of those summers, I’d go to camp at Camp Rio Blanco, about an hour’s drive away from home. My first year at camp was harrowing. I didn’t know anyone there, I didn’t understand camp protocol, I’d never spent more than one night at a time away from home, I was shy. But I stuck it out; the only truly awful thing that happened that year was the day at breakfast when the counselor at our table made each of us eat a stewed prune before she’d allow us to leave the table. (The idea of just refusing that silly demand never crossed my mind.) I could feel my throat constrict as that prune slid past. It was disgusting and it remains the only prune I’ve ever eaten. Even their recent rebranding to “dried plums” can’t erase that memory.
As much as I dreaded camp that first time, I grew to love it and went every summer through the 10th grade. I liked wearing the camp uniform – dark green shorts, white shirt, green knee socks with red garters, and if I was lucky, the double loop of gold braid over my shoulder that marked me as a patrol leader. I liked the flag ceremonies, singing together in the dining hall after meals, hiking to Arrowhead Mesa or to Silver Falls, playing in the creek (wet years only), the swinging bridge across the draw, sitting around the campfire, swimming. And the friends I was starting to make.
We stayed in tents that were built on wooden platforms. The sides and ends of the tents would roll up and on those hot summer nights, we’d usually roll up all the sides to let the breezes cool us off. There were four or five girls per tent; the beds were metal cots with thin mattresses that we’d spread our sleeping bags across. Our footlockers would be stowed under the beds.
My long range plan was to be a camp counselor, and I’d planned on taking Counselor-in-Training the summer after my junior year in high school. But a late-spring bout of mononucleosis left me unable to pass the required physical, and so, suddenly, my Girl Scout camp career was over.
My old footlocker was kept in service, though, in the store room off the garage. It was stuffed full of the random things my parents kept: my dad’s high school diploma was in it, as was a string of beads my mom got from a pen-pal, a broken doll, and a handful of old and faded (and unmarked) snapshots. And inside the lid: the packing list from camp, with a wavy line through the line for bedding. I used a sleeping bag, after all.
Folded into the cedar chest at the foot of my parents’ bed – the Girl Scout leader uniform my mom had worn. So, while I don’t know why she decided to take on that particular challenge, I can safely surmise that she had memories that were fond enough to warrant saving her uniform for decades.
Her uniform and my footlocker went to the estate sale.