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The famous East Texas dogwoods were still abloom.

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.

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Yours truly, just a few years ago with my sweet grandparents, Lillian and George Castleberry. I was a well-loved kid!

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).

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Grandmom C was a wonderful cook in the finest traditions of southern comfort food. I can still taste her “hot water bread,” homemade biscuits, collard greens, veal cutlets, and boysenberry cobbler with berries from her own garden.

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.

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A little bit of everything here – evening primrose, Indian paintbrush, and bluebonnets – the state flower of Texas.
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Elmira and Aaron T. Castleberry were my great-great grandparents. We were excited to find out that they had played such a key role in settling the area.

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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The big old house on 7th street is still standing and seems to be somewhat looked after.
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The rustic old cabin on Lake Cherokee that my Granddaddy George built with his own hands. It’s long gone, but oh the memories.
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Grandmom C fishing off her pier at Lake Cherokee with one of the old bamboo poles. Love her sunbonnet. One time, my brother Kelly stuck his pole in a hornet’s nest under the railing. It wasn’t pretty.
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Looking out over the lake from the site of the old cabin. The picnic table Mom’s standing next to at right is the original. So much watermelon was consumed on that table that I’m surprised it didn’t collapse from sugar overload!
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The church and cemetery where my grandparents are buried is named after my great-great grandmother Elmira.
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Final resting place of Lillian and George, my dear grandparents.

18 Comments

  1. Susan, what a wonderful heritage you have to cherish! Thanks for sharing!

    Bud

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, dear Bud! I have so many great memories.

  2. A fine trip down memory lane, thanks for sharing it. I had to laugh when you wrote about the green Pontiac station wagon. We had one just like it! And the blankets and pillows, too! The world seemed better before seat belts, I think.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ha, yes, before seatbelts, child safety seats, and a lot of other things that keep kids safer but take away from some of the experience of being a kid, in my opinion. It’s a wonder we survived our childhoods!

  3. Bernadette Cooper Reply

    How nice to go back to where your childhood memories were made. “Gee it’s good to be back home again”, as John Denver sang! Love to you both!💕

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, dear Bernadette! Hugs to you and Richard.

  4. I could definitely relate to the story of driving long-distance is in the car with family and you are a fantastic storyteller thank you

  5. I love this story. Since returning to the states we have been reconnecting with our childhood memories and our friends of long ago. Such warm memories. It goes to show that you can go home again. ❤️

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      We’ve been enjoying your Facebook posts about your journey! See you soon <3

  6. A true “ A Trip toBountiful” adventure. Bravo to you for doing this for your mom! Penny and Bill, Trim,Ireland

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You’re in Ireland? Cool! Hugs to you both.

  7. Renuka Walter Reply

    Beautiful! These are such pictures! It’s so enriching and fun to revisit your roots and relive the good, old days. By the way, you looked cute as a baby! 🙂

  8. It was truly a delight to read a bit of your family history. Even though we grew up in different places, the ‘time’ gives a familiarity to our stories. I so remember Coty Emeraude and I still enjoy a good radio program. Love that trio of smiles in that first pic. The endless flowering fields are calling to me. And your conclusion that ‘no matter how far we roam – sometimes the best travel experiences are those closest to home’ makes me feel a little less apprehensive about returning Stateside in 2020.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Lisa – just realizing I never replied to your comment! Isn’t it amazing how many shared memories we folks of a certain age and time have? We’re so looking forward to meeting you in Curacao!
      – Susan

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