When I came to Texas in the summer of 1969, my mother was living in an apartment on the second floor of my Aunt Rene’s house. It had a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen and was accessed by stairs on the outside of the house. I slept on the sofa in the living room; I remember watching the moon landing from that sofa. A bird family had built a nest in the bedroom window and I enjoyed checking on their progress.
We had very little of our own in the way of household furniture or appliances. Almost everything had to be acquired anew when we moved a couple of months later into an apartment in the Housing Complex. This was the utilitarian name of the public assistance housing; there was only one such complex in Seymour. Our address was Apartment 44, Housing Complex. It sounded bare-bones, but the apartment served our needs very well. Like all the other units in the complex, it was part of a duplex.
The setting was not so bad, either. Our back door opened out onto a grassy common area that had a few pecan trees; we would later spend hours on winter nights cracking the pecans we collected from the ground around these trees. Perhaps the presence of so many pecan trees is why novelty nutcrackers are such popular Christmas presents in that part of Texas – sort of the official Northeast Texas tchotchke. Beyond the grassy common area and across the road from the housing project was the city park, which was filled with scrubby trees and diseased and mistletoe-afflicted trees so common in that part of Texas. Still, it was a pleasant place to walk in.
Only one thing about the setting bothered me a little bit, and that was all the burrs and “stickers” in the grass. For some reason, I really missed being able to walk barefoot on the grass. It wasn’t as though I had walked around barefoot outside all the time in California. For one thing, having dogs put a definite limit on that kind of activity, at least in our back yard. Still, I remembered the freedom of being able to dash out into our front yard and feel the soft, cool grass under my feet. I guess you never know what you are going to miss until you have to do without it.
Other foods that we always had plenty of, in addition to pecans, were butter and cheese; that was because everyone who was on public assistance received these subsidized foods. Not great foods if you wanted to lose weight, but we learned to make varied use of them, especially in casseroles.
My mother got a job as a waitress. She worked from 3:00 to 11:00, so it was always late when she got home. She would bring home her tips and leftover slices of the cream pies served by the restaurant. It became our late-night ritual to count up her tips while eating a piece of pie.
Life was slower in Seymour, which was a bit hotter than San Bernardino and quite a bit plainer and more barren in look and feel. Despite the differences, my adjustment to my new surroundings was not too traumatic; perhaps my homesickness for California might have been keener had I not expected to move back there before too much time had passed. After all, I had moved so many times in the last three years; surely this was just temporary, too.
I soon found the library; like almost everything in town, it was not too far a walk from anything else in town. I had not yet met many people other than my relatives, and I still carried many ingrained biases regarding the South and Southerners, despite the fact that my parents were from Texas. The only thing I can say in my defense is that it would only take a few months to strip that nonsense from me.