A week or so ago, Rita the dog tried to fly. She had chased a cat up and over a concrete retaining wall which was maybe ten feet off the ground and sloped at maybe an 80 degree angle. I was strolling a few feet ahead of Rita and Jim who called out to me so I could see what what was going on. At the exact instant I turned to look, Rita sailed back towards us in a giant arc up over the top of the wall, ears flying, rear legs out behind her and front legs folded in front, just like Pegasus the flying horse. But she had no wings, so she landed with the proverbial sickening thud on hard ground. You can imagine what we feared. Fortunately, although shaken (all of us), she had only suffered a not too serious injury to her left knee. The vet ordered rest and then only limited, controlled walks for the next couple of weeks.
Restricted to the life of a quiet house dog wasn't to her liking, so we decided she needed a country drive. We almost always take her on our country drives, but this time, we would not take her up dirt roads to chase cats and cows, only to towns where we could keep her on the leash.
We headed south on small roads, passing through, for instance, Poteet, "The Strawberry Capital of the World." That Monday, the town was picking up after its annual strawberry festival. Trash collectors wandered through the remains of carny rides and booths on the fairgrounds and men hanging off the backs of pickup trucks were still picking up thousands of orange cones along the road. One of those perennially sad days after. No more the hundred thousand visitors: just a dusty, somewhat battered looking small town with a water tower that was a giant strawberry.
More or less randomly we had chosen Charlotte, Texas, maybe 45 miles from home, as our destination. If we hadn't chosen it, we'd likely have driven right through barely making an effort to notice it. As in a lot of South Texas towns, even its few downtown buildings were scattered, set back from the main crossroads.
Here you see the front of the library and the side of the grocery store. Caticornered from where we were standing and across the street were the garage for schoolbuses and next to it, a small fairly new building that seemed to house some regional offices. We were standing next to a converted garage-mechanic workshop which I'll describe below, because it is a good contradiction to the saying, "what you see is what you get."
As Jim took pictures (he takes lots more than I do), I walked Rita alongside the garage/mechanic building and realized it looked a little odd. One part of the side facing the street had been stuccoed and three nice outdoor chairs sat around a table.
So I continued around the corner. Behind a chain link fance sat a garden which, if it were a bit bigger I would have taken for a garden in a city park in Mexico. And lo and behold, this side of the building looked sort of like a house, or maybe some kind of rendition of a house as installation art. I was attempting to get some photos of the flowers when the owner appeared and -- invited me in!
Well, not just right away: after we'd talked enough for her to be sure I wasn't going to try to scam her or worse. She and her husband, the mechanic who presided over the workshop side of the building had moved to Charlotte from nearby Jourdanton (see pictures of Jourdanton in the Charlotte and Jourdanton, Texas photo album) and converted half the structure to their home with the proceeds from the sale of the sale of their more conventional ranch-style home in Jourdanton. What gives the house its unusual installation art aspect are the painted windows: there is only a double french door, no real window facing the garden.
The owner gave us a tour of the inside: her dreams of home realized. Just as examples: Mrs G. had created an ideal kind of farm kitchen: very large, lined with white, glass-fronted kitchen cabinets combined with the family room: no partition, no "bar" or island so her family, grandkids, kids, husband, in-laws could hang out together, sprawled on the couches, playing games, cooking, together.
I didn't take any interior pictures, but you can see Mrs G's garden in the Charlotte Jourdanton, Texas photo album.
Charlotte had another jewel. Driving down a dirt road that circled the town, we came upon the Mexican Cemetery. Mexican cemeteries are filled with color and life. I imagine gatherings of the living and the dead happen regularly, not just on the Day of the Dead.
Here is some information about Charlotte.
It is 45 miles south of San Antonio at the intersection of State Highways 97 and 85. The population is about 1727. Although many people are accustomed to think of small towns in the US as dying and only having old people left in them, Charlotte is growing, albeit slowly, and the median age is 29.6 years. The population is 81.2% Hispanic, 18.1 Anglo and 1.9% American Indian. The Anglos are a mix of German, English, Irish and "United States" which I take to mean mutt.
It's a poor town. The median household income is around $25,000, and the median house value is around $26,000. Only 49.4% of the people over 25 have a high school diploma. Only 2.6% have a bachelors degree. Only 0.3% have a graduate or professional degree.
Unemployement is around 9%. Most working people work elsewhere, the average commute being more than half an hour one way. It's worth noting that there are a number of adults who don't have cars.
The library squeezes about 9000 books into its storefront as well as about some audio and video materials. It maintains three subscriptions. It looks very well used. The Charlotte high school has 136 students, the elementary school, 256 and the junior high 106. At least one of the teachers is an artist.
Charlotte also has girls' baseball teams: we saw them playing.
A relatively young town, being founded in the late 1800s, Charlotte never appears to have boomed, though oil exists. Farmers shifted from cotton to peanuts awhile ago, but since peanuts have lost a lot of their value, nothing has really replaced them. You see cattle in the fields around Charlotte. I don't know anything about how well the cattle business is doing. The picture to the
left shows an active oil pump.
Most of South Texas is poor and is losing population. Schools are poor with few services and few courses past the bare bones ones. Post-high school opportunities are scattered far and wide. Land prices are falling. There are few medical services. And while there are plenty of hard-working people, the jobs don't pay much. In fact, the barter system seems to cover a lot of exchange.
It's pretty in Charlotte. The air is clean and fresh in the spring; Mrs. G says there's always a breeze, even in the heat of summer. She and her husband sit out on the swing in the garden to watch sunrises and sunsets. She says the stars fill the sky: her stars, she calls them. She likes living "right downtown" where she can walk to the grocery store and the post office and the library and her church. She works hard. She cleans houses. There aren't too many people in Charlotte who can afford a housekeeper, so I imagine she's one of the commuters. There are some "ranchettes," five acre lots with suburban houses on split-up ranch land further north, within commuting distance of San Antonio. Her husband repairs cars and trucks and does some welding, though I gather he thinks of himself as retired.
Mrs G. exchanged housekeeping for the paintings on the walls of her house, inside and out, with the teacher who is an artist at one of the Charlotte schools. In her spare time, she's laid all the brick surfaces and walkways in her garden and planted it. The bricks she's found and been given; many of the flowers are heirloom, from her mother's garden. She's also refinished much of the furniture in her house, found at flea markets and garage sales, in bright, smooth colors.
Check out the photo album of Charlotte and Jourdanton, Texas. It should be available today or tomorrow.