Many of you may know that every year I take a trip to visit my grandparents in Paris, Texas. Where is Paris, you might ask. And that is a good question.
There is no easy way to get to Paris. The best way is to fly into Dallas and hop on the road going east for two and a half hours. There are no train stops in Paris and no bus stops. I still wonder how the 25,000 residents who call Paris home made it here. Thirty miles from Oklahoma and thirty miles from Arkansas, Paris is the biggest small town in the eastern corner of the Lone Star State. The town and its surrounding farms are home to a collection of farmers, ranchers, and Menonites, all of which (Menonites included) own at least one Ford F250 truck. There is a Cambell soup factory, which is the biggest employer around since the Sarah Lee factory shut down. There are eighty churches. Paris paints a country song picture of small town American life. There is nothing to do and a whole lot of Amazing Grace to sing while doing it. My personal favorite place to go is the Sirloin Stockade, an amazon all you can eat steak buffet that has never even heard of the terms ‘Obesity Epidemic’ or ‘Daily Calorie Count’. After eating salads all year, Sirloin Stockade gives me a great excuse to dive into a plate of greasy sausages, mashed potatoes with real butter and juicy steak, all smothered in a healthy dose of gravy. Dessert is something delicious and creamy topped with cherry pie filling. I’m not sure I want to know what it is.
And did I mention that my grandmother is an excellent cook as well? Between the pork chops, the meatloaf, and the fired okra, I’m not losing five pounds any time soon.
But more than the food, going to Paris for me is like a family reunion with people and places that were dead and gone long, long before I was born. My grandfather was born on a little farm just out of town and spent all of his childhood in and around Paris. When my grandparents decided to semi-retire, they moved back. As different relatives have passed away, my grandmother has kept all the old photographs and scrabooks she can find and quite a few of them are hanging on the wall in her hallway. Its become a ritual of mine to take a few evenings while I’m there to sift through the photographs and scrapbooks. I always start with the photograph of this girl, one of my distant great, great aunts, who was killed by a spider bite when she was eleven:
I love old photographs in general, but I love photographs of my history especially. Old family photos go beyond showing you the clothing that was in style, they show you where the color of your eyes and the set of your jaw came from. It is also fun to dream what it would be like to meet the people in these photos and introduce myself as their distant ancestor. For example, I would like to meet every one of the people in this photo and ask them about their moustaches.
One of my great grandmothers. She always seems so dignified to me.
Baby pictures are especially fun. This is a great uncle I never got to meet:
And I love looking at the only wedding pictures, especially when they’re hung right next to newer ones:
And, although it isn’t a photograph, I always have to pay a visit to the map of the 36th Infantry Division’s progress in World War II. Three of my great uncles served in the war, two of them in the 36th and one in the air force.
You think I might get tired of looking at the same photographs and maps year after year, but I never do. Even though Paris is a small town in a place very unlike the beaches of California, my grandparents and the people looking down from the walls of this old brick house are very much a part of who I am. Do you have a piece of your history you re-visit?
Howdy from Paris,