Friday, July 31, 2009

To the family that replaces us

The too-small house is more cramped than ever. That's because, for one, the attic is empty. Everything that resided over our heads for years is around our ankles as we prepare for a move, and as the house prepares for a new owner.

If you're in the market, it's the one with the inch-high plastic rhino guarding the backyard gate at the post. Years ago, a son secured it in the wet concrete as I fortified the gate against dog escape. We've had no intruders since, though it didn't stop dog escapes.

Things, things, things. We've hauled so many to the curb and thrift stores as we've decided what stays and what goes.

In the process, I've thought of a hypothetical family arriving to replace ours here, and what it will need. I have a list:

* A water filter — It took us way too long to get smart, particularly when Waco water wasn't fit for carp. We spent way too much on water filtered and bottled by others, maybe out of their own bathtub taps.

* A pet — If you're new to town, go directly to the Waco Humane Society, Fuzzy Friends Rescue or Happy Endings and acquire a pet, or two, or three. Might as well do it now, for I guarantee: The pets will find you.

* A Bible — Not because you'll be required to read or assent to it. You'll just need it to keep up with the arguing.

* Shorts — Do your legs have the pallor of a whale's belly? Don't worry. Wear these, and they'll be the color of grilled salmon shortly, and you'll be cooler.

* Dr Pepper — You may not need this tip. I was a Pepper long before learning this was its birthplace. Anyway, in Waco, you can't run. You can't hide. So, drink.

* Chili — Go the store and get some Corsicana-born Wolf Brand. For an out-of-stater, it may take some acclimating. But shortly, you'll like the climate in your mouth.

* Fried okra — One of my great rediscoveries when moving here was this, a favorite of my Texas-born parents. It's just too bad that I can't direct you to Piccadilly Cafeteria for it, but options are many.

* A city map — Waco, you will quickly understand, has no directions, thanks to the diagonal route of the Brazos River. Hence: East Waco is to the north. South Waco is to the east. West Waco is a lake. In other words, ditch your compass.

* An open mind — Some people want to characterize Waco in ways that don't jibe with reality. They say it is politically or theologically homogenous. They say it has "good" parts and "bad" parts, and we all know what they mean. Well, I'd agree Waco has always had "bad" parts. Fortunately, some people haven't been content to let them rot. Because of them, good things really are happening where some dare not tread.

* Appreciation for diversity — Waco has all the challenges of larger urban centers. So do its schools. If someone tries to steer you away from public schools, say, "Is it because you think they're substandard or because some classes of people are above your standards?" The too-small house with the rhino at the gate? It's in the Waco Independent School District: our schools.

* Appreciation for history — For a young place in the grand scheme of time, Waco has much history and many stories to tell and to be told. Tell your children about it. Have them dip a toe in it at

* Walking shoes — Whether it's in your new neighborhood, at the Lake Waco Dam Trail, at Cameron Park or any number of city parks, get out of the car. I realize that might not be as simple here as in other places. As a newcomer who might have come from a more pedestrian-friendly town, tell policymakers how important sidewalks and pedestrian signals were in the place from where you came.

* Inquisitiveness — This may sound like an invitation to the library. Not a bad idea. No, what I actually mean is: Be curious about this place and its institutions — the VA hospital; the activities and opportunities at Baylor University, McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College; the natural charms; the history.

Check it out, and you might stay awhile, like we did.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald. E-mail:

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