On our last visit to Austin in April, John and I took a weekend trip up north to Longview, Texas with my mom, Mary Lea Castleberry Baker. Mom grew up in Longview, a “Piney Woods” town not far from the northeast corner of the state bordering Arkansas and Louisiana (The Heart of the Ark-La-Tex, the newscasters would boom from my grandmom’s old 20-inch, black-and-white TV). How long had it been since I’d seen Longview? Well, my Grandmom Castleberry passed away in the summer of 1977, just after I graduated from high school. It had to be at least a year before that. So . . .43 years? Yikes.
Longview looms almost as large in my childhood as my hometown of Fort Stockton, way out west on the other side of Texas. Every summer, my parents would load up the big, green Pontiac station wagon, toss us kids in the back with a few pillows and blankets (no child safety seats then!), and then make the 800-plus-mile drive to Longview to visit Grandmom Castleberry. Sometimes my folks would drive all night, and we’d listen to late-night broadcasts of preacher Garner Ted Armstrong, Paul Harvey (“And that’s the REST of the story!”), and the spooky CBS Radio Mystery Theater (with your host, E.G. Marshall).
We would spend at least two weeks every summer with Grandmama Castleberry. She was a tiny lady who always seemed ancient to us (although she was only 84 when she died). Fetching up at her big, two-story brick house after the long drive was always a thrill, and she’d wrap us in one of her big hugs and exclaim, “Come here, my babies!” If I were to catch a whiff of Coty Emeraude perfume now, I’d have an instant picture of her, Lillian Castleberry, one of the kindest ladies to ever walk this earth.
John has not been enamored of other parts of Texas (don’t get him started on the “empty wasteland” of the West, where I grew up!). But he was enchanted with East Texas. It helped that the wildflowers were still in full bloom. Texas had an early, long, and especially robust wildflower season this year. Even after growing up there, I had never seen anything quite like it. Stunning.
Longview, of course, has quadrupled in size in 40 years. But there was still plenty that was relatively unchanged. Even the big two-story house, which my grandparents built in 1934 after oil was discovered on their farmland, was still standing and not looking entirely derelict (although it didn’t seem to be occupied). And I learned some new things about my Castleberry ancestors, who, as it turns out, were pioneering settlers of the region.
It was a memorable trip, and a reminder that – no matter how far we roam – sometimes the best travel experiences are those closest to home.