Never thought I'd call Texas home
The Texas Story Project.
Have you ever met a person and wondered what their story was? Wondering where they are from, what their life was like growing up, how they got to the place where they are? Well, I'm one of those people. Luckily, as a social worker, I get to ask those important and pertinent questions. Where were you born? How old are you? What's your background.
Well, originally, I'm from the great and wonderful state of California. Now, now, I've heard the jokes about this state and have been told numerous times about how it is going to fall off into the Pacific Ocean. However, all jokes aside, I have a natural affinity for my home state. I have it because for the first 12 years of my life this was what I knew home to be.
I grew up in Pasadena, originally, moving when I was two to the only home that I remember in Altadena, Calif., and yes, I still know my address by heart. The house on El Sol Ave. is the only home that I knew and remembered. I grew up on a house at the beginning of the block on a street corner with a big backyard (for California) in a suburb of a suburb of a major city (in other words, Altadena is a suburb of Pasadena, which is a suburb of Los Angeles.) I grew up where I felt safe, had friends, and, yes, could walk to the corner store three blocks down the street. I grew up not far from the Rose Bowl (about eight blocks if you felt like walking) and where they build the La Canada float for the Tournament of Roses, and about six blocks from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
I grew up hearing the sound barrier being broken from the landing of the Space Shuttles and remember when the Challenger exploded as a kid when I was in the 6th grade. I grew up where I walked to my junior high school and it had 300 to 400 6th to 8th graders in one building (God bless those teachers.) I grew up riding the RTD (Rapid Transit District--aka--the city bus.) I grew up catching the bus to go to the mall and go to various places like the YMCA or the local library. I grew up with knowing some, but not necessarily all, of my neighbors. When you grow up hearing of stores like Ralph's (grocery store), Von's (grocery store), Fed-Co (the equal of Wal-Mart), Pic 'N Save, See's Winchell's Doughnuts, etc., you kinda sorta get used to always being around them, or at least expect to have them always around.
Well, that was until the year I turned 12. It was a difficult year for my mother. Being raised with my older (knuckleheaded) big brother and my mother, it was good family fun, but hard at times. My parents, who divorced when I was one, were two of the oddest pairs of people that you ever wanted to meet. My mother, for instance is 6 ft. 1 in. and my father is 5 ft. 10 in., that's just the beginning. So you could imagine, when I was 12, I wasn't much taller than I am now (5 ft. 5.5 in., thank you very much.) But I was a big kid for my age, but still, remember, I was 12. I thought I'd live in California forever!
I knew Texas as a child. My first visit was when I was three years old. My family (Uncle Robert and Aunt Rita, my mother's sister, Aunt Amy, my Uncle Robert's mother-in-law, Mrs. Inge, and myself, my older brother, my Aunt Amy's children, William and Frank, and Uncle Robert's children, Robin and Lil Henry and one of their cousins) all came to visit my grandparents in Texas. My grandparents moved back to my grandmother's family land in, of all places, Teague.
Now if you don't know where this is, just imagine a dot, then imagine two bigger dots, with the small dot in the middle. That's just about describing Teague. It is 50 miles east of Waco, 100 miles south of Dallas, more than 330 miles north of Houston--in between Mexia, Fairfield, and Palestine. So, like I said in my analogy, Teague is a dot on the map.
Well, I don't remember much from that trip except two things: #1, don't do the dark! They took us kids (as we all came in an RV) to Carlsbad Caverns. Apparently I dang near lost it when I began singing in the caverns and one of my aunts had to get this kid outta there! #2, I remember running down the road to see my grandmother. About halfway down (as the RV wouldn't fit underneath the sign for the farm and I was only 3, and the other grandkids had bolted down to see our grandparents), I ended up lagging behind. My cousin, Billy, turned around and picked me up and carried me the rest of the way.
So my brother and I periodically came down for the inevitable summer vacation to visit our grandparents, Momo and Granddaddy, also known as Roosevelt and Gladys Jones. Mom would always send us through the Hobby Airport in Houston, never realizing that DFW was a lot closer. So I knew about Texas, but I never thought I'd have to live there!
That was until I was 12 years old. My mother hadn't been able to find steady work for the last year, and my father, who ever was on time with child support, was even more lax. As it goes, it's good when you have a place to go home to. One day after school, we'd come home and our mother told us that she was going to have to sell the house and move. My brother and I asked, to where? When she said Texas, to Momo and Granddaddy's, we instantly thought no. Well, we didn't have a choice. We finished the school year that June, and then it was off to packing. Momma told us to pack our belongings. I stacked, cleaned, and packed all my stuff in one corner, and my Momma apparently thought, that's good, and told my brother to do the same. Little by little, we cleaned out the only house I'd known for 10 years. My brother and I took turns with Momma taking things to Goodwill. Sooner than later, we were heading out of California, the only home I'd ever known.
I didn't realize until I was an adult, that it was the only home that my mother knew for 42 years. She was the only one of my grandparents four children who was born in California. Her older sisters and brother were born in Houston, where my grandmother was originally from. She was the Texas native. My grandparents both went to school in Houston, but never met as he went to Booker T. Washington high school and she went to Jack Yates. He was originally from Alexandria, La., and moved with his parents when he was 13 years old to Houston. My grandparents met in what used to be called Prairie View College but is now known as Prairie View A&M University. So apprently, Texas, was just in our blood!
As we left California, I remember it seemed to be raining and that Palm Springs stank and that the Mojave is one hot desert. I remember waking up to some beautiful sunsets in Arizona, and I remember that on the border between New Mexico and Texas my brother and I clung to each other as the Federales thought that my mother was a coyote bringing two children across (my mother has more melatonin than my brother and me, as I swear being in California, we were orange from being in the sun so much.) We finally made it to Texas, and we made it to Teague, Texas, to be specific. Even more so, we made it to PJ Ranch in Teague, which to my brother and me seemed like being dumped in the middle of the ocean with floaties and a slingshot. We felt like two fish out of water. We didn't care that most of our cousins went through the same thing. This was us! What were we going to do now? Well, we knew going to our father's was out of the question, as he could barely house himself. Our sister was busy with her children (as we'd been an aunt and uncle since he was 13 and I was 11), and that our father's sisters and brothers were caring for their family. I guess we could say, we were home, even though we felt that we didn't belong.
As time passed on, that first six months in Texas was pretty much hell. Why? Our grandmother, my Momo, had developed cancer early on in 1986, and it may have just metastasized by the time we came in June of 1987. We didn't know that she didn't have much time left. In the midst of this, Mom had to find a job, and we had to adjust to 13 people living in our grandparents' house. Just imagine two grandparents, two sisters (my mother and Aunt Amy), and eight cousins, respectively, from the ages of two to 22 years old. That's a lot of people! My cousin Bill and I helped cook for all of these people. My cousins Virginia and Regina both had two two-year-olds, Nina and Elizabeth ("Lizzy") and they had to work. My cousin Frank (Bill's brother) and my brother (Henry) had to help Granddaddy take care of the farm. And if you didn't want to see Jesus, you didn't tell Granddaddy no! So I went from living in one house with my own bed to having to share a house with 13 people. The zaniness was on! Eventually, my mom got a job with the state, and we moved into a house on my birthday like we did 11 years ago. Again, I was semi-happy. I had my own bedroom again! Aunt Amy got her own house shortly before we did or right after, it's hard to remember almost 30 years ago. But folks got situated until January 4, 1988 at 4:15am. Momo went to the hospital right after Christmas. She didn't want the grandkids to come and see her until she left the hospital. At night, someone had to stay in the house to man the phone. The reason that I remember that cold and bitter night and morning is because I was the one who got the call from Granddaddy telling me that my Grandmother, Momo, had died and to come to the hospital and get him. I remember running down to my house in my bare feet and telling my mother that her mother had died. I went through the house like a flash and woke up my brother, telling him about Momo, as I bounded out the backdoor, straight to Aunt Amy's house to tell her. I remember thinking that it was cold as I walked back up to the house with no shoes on. I remember when Momma and Aunt Amy left to go and get Granddaddy in his 1985 Ford Crown Victoria. I remember when they came back from Mexia. Granddaddy insisted that he would get the wood from the porch for the woodstove. And I remember, clear as day, that Granddaddy, when he came in the house and into the den, dropped that pile of wood and cried for the loss of his wife of 49 years and eight months. I can hear his yell and hear his cry of, "she's gone, my baby's gone," as I went and hid in the bathroom because I couldn't stand to see my grandfather cry.
But I digress from the story. Life went on for me and my family and, yes, I did go to junior high and high school in Teague. Now, people ask me my school history, and I swear I sound crazy as a bessie bug when I say that I was in school down here for five years, but I was. Why? I had to finish the 8th grade. But as time went on, my Aunt's sons graduated Mexia high school and went to Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA. They both went on to have fine degrees, one as a teacher and one as a lawyer. My brother went to the family school at Prairie View A&M University. He graduated with a degree in finance and accounting in 1995. Me, well, ahem ... I wanted to be different. I didn't want to go to school in Texas. I'd already had five years of Texas schooling, and I was through with Texas. Or so I thought. So, I took myself off to, of all places, Greenbow, Alabama! Yes, I went to the oldest historically black colleges and universities there, Talladega College, home of the Marching Tornadoes band! I graduated from Dear Ole Dega as well in 1996 with my Bachelor's of Science Degree in Social Work.
Now, after all of this, why would I never think that I'd call Texas home? Well, during my freshman year in 'Dega, things were getting hard at home. My mother had lost her job, and, well, she had two kids in college. Let's face it, she was older and what were we going to do? Before I'd left for home, I got a summer job at a camp in Birmingham, Ala., for the summer, but I was able to go home for a month first. I went home, did what I could, and then left to go to this summer camp job. I came, I saw, I went through hell at that job! But with all things, you persevere or you perish, and I just didn't want to die at this moment. So after the job, I had to go back to school. But in the meantime, part of my money went to my mother to help her, then while I was at the camp, my beloved Granddaddy had suffered his first heat stroke. It just seemed like it was never going to end! Job done and off to school I go. Well, when you counted up the months, I actually hadn't seen my family since May of this year. By the time school let out in December, it had been six months since I'd seen my mother, brother, or anyone, and by gosh, by golly, I missed them! I caught the bus in Talladega to make the transfer to Birmingham. When I caught the transfer in Birmingham, I was on that bus until I got to Shreveport, La. Why I was wide awake, to this day, I couldn't say or tell you, but I was. I caught the bus in Shreveport to Dallas, and....dare I say it.....HOME at last. I stayed up on that bus until I saw that Texas sign. The minute we crossed over it, I knew, home was going to get here just as quick as it could. I stayed up, but must have finally fallen asleep somewhere between that sign and Dallas. I woke up about an hour before Dallas and when we drove into the bus station, and I saw Momma in her car outside of the bus station waiting for me to finally come home. I now knew, that Texas, despite all my reservations, was my home! California dreaming I may always have been, and a piece of that great big bear and Golden Poppy will forever remain in my heart., but I think a little of that Lone Star charm and that bluebonnet has grown up on me.
Since then, I actually did have to eat my words. I went to school in Texas, when I went and got my master's in social work from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. I went on to become a Licensed Master Social Worker, and have primarily worked in nursing facilities as well as at psychiatric facilities since. To this day, there's no place that I'd rather be than at the farm, PJ Ranch (which, yes, is still in existence), and I call it home than any other place.
So, yeah, I'm glad that Texas is now my home!
Acheera is the daughter of Sharon Munoz and Henry Munoz. She is originally from California, but now lives in Teague, Texas. Her grandparents were Gladys and Roosevelt Jones. She is a social worker and obtained her bachelor's in social work in 1996 from Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama, and her master's in social work from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio in 1998.
Posted July 15, 2019