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Guest Column

RIGHT HERE by Dwight Young

Keene, Texas
It's a classic movie moment: Drake McHugh, played by a youthful Ronald Reagan, wakes up in a hospital bed to find that his legs have been amputated. Staring wild-eyed at the place where his legs should be, he screams, "Where's the rest of me?" That melodramatic scene from Kings Row kept running through my mind on a recent trip to Texas.

My stepfather's parents lived in a tiny East Texas town called Keene, and I always looked forward to visiting them. Their house had screened porches front and back, with a big table where we ate in warm weather and a glider on which my sister and I swung faster and faster until some grownup yelled at us to stop. Best of all, I got to sleep in the attic, beside a window that looked out over my grandmother's iris beds and the fields that rolled off beyond the fence.

To a kid from the treeless, pancake-flat plains of West Texas, the countryside around Keene seemed foreign and exotic, so lush as to be practically Edenic. There were woods to wander in and little streams to throw rocks into. And there were hills to climb minimalist hills that probably wouldn't even register on a topographical map, but they kept the horizon from being ankle-high and ruler-straight as it was back home.

Because it played an important role in my life for a good many years, I decided to pay a visit to Keene when I was in Texas recently. I hadn't been there in years, so I expected to find things changed. But when I pulled off the highway into the town, things got weird.

Keene was gone. More precisely, the Keene I remembered had been replaced with something I didn't recognize. I drove around for most of an hour, finding nothing that looked familiar. A street sign reading "Old Betsey Road" rang a bell, but the Old Betsey Road I remembered was an unpaved country lane, while this was a broad, roaring river of cars. After several uneasy minutes, I recognized the stone gateway at the entrance to the little Seventh-Day Adventist college in the middle of town. But the cluster of modern buildings beyond the gateway looked nothing like the college I remembered, and the street leading up to the campus the street where the post office used to be seemed to have vanished.

I wanted to find my grandparents' house, but I had no idea where to look for it. I suppose I could have asked for directions ("Do you remember some people named Young who used to live somewhere around here in a white house with a glider on the front porch and some irises out back and a bed in the attic?"), but I didn't. Maybe I was afraid they'd tell me the house had been torn down years ago. Besides, I was beginning to hear poor, legless Drake McHugh screaming from that hospital bed, and it was giving me the creeps. I drove back to the interstate and headed for someplace familiar.

So what does all this mean? I'm still trying to sort it out, but here's what I've concluded so far:

There are three good reasons for saving older buildings. First, they're good to look at, and we should save them because they give our communities grace-notes of beauty, variety and visual texture. Second, they have an almost infinite capacity for reuse, and we should save them because it's good sense (and sound ecological practice) to do so. Third, they are tangible links with history, and we should save them as a means of maintaining connections with a past that we need to remember. As I get older, this last reason seems increasingly important.

More than a century ago, John Ruskin said this about architecture: "We may live without her and worship without her, but we cannot remember without her." Remembering is essential, and the task of avoiding amnesia is much easier when we can see the past and touch it and live with it. There's something incredibly powerful about being able to walk into a building and say, "This is where it happened, within these walls, right here."

That's what a landmark does: It tells you, "Right here." Without landmarks to guide you, you get lost. Everybody knows that, but somehow I never grasped the real truth of it until I looked for part of me in Keene and couldn't find it.

- Historic Preservation, Mar/Apr 1996
Published with Permission, Courtesy Dwight Young

They Shoe Horses, Don't They?
March 16 , 2005 Guest Column
Readers' Forum
Subject: Keene, Texas

I just wanted to comment on the remarks by Dwight Young about the little town of Keene, Texas.

I grew up in that town, and though less time passed before I returned for visits, I can certainly understand Dwight's dismay at seeing that the "old Keene" was gone.

The town of Keene is a living thing, and all things living change and grow to accommodate their own particular needs. We look at Keene as a place frozen in time, but the reality is that while the memories belong in our domain, the town does not. I still see the ghosts of old houses on the lots where they once stood. The tiny house where I was conceived, the house where we lived when I learned to ride a bike, the big two story place that I last called home before I married and moved to Houston, all are gone now. I find myself wishing I could have bought them all, and preserved them forever.

But parts of Keene are still there for me. My grandmother's house is still there, the walls covered with the flagstones she mortared into place so long ago. I can visit my Aunt Rachel, and drive across town to the Hillsboro addition to see my Uncle Wesley. Their houses are comfortingly familiar, though they seem a little smaller now.

I guess that's because I'm a little bigger now.

All things grow and change to accommodate life and living. But love and family ties still bind our hearts, and call us through the time and miles to "home".

Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you.

- Sincerely, Cathy T. Martin, Conroe, Texas, June 30, 2005

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