pilgrims and desolate angels

On the road in Texas. Copyright 2010 Robin L. Chandler

On Christmas Eve morning we began our journey heading southeast past the fields of plowed-under cornhusks and bales of cotton standing ready at the gin.  At the small towns of Little River, Bartlett and Granger I slow the car. Out the corner of my eye, I see the bustling cotton towns of the 1920s.  Now I quickly glance at a few farmers and ranchers, their wives and children, topping off the tank and buying a quart of milk at the convenience store before settling-in for the coming day of celebration, rest, and reflection.  Desolate and empty towns transformed by the shift from local to global economy.  From the north and west comes a great cold front.  From the vantage point of a small rise the change of weather is visible for a great distance in the hill country.  Still hours away, the dark gray storm clouds will bring a hard driving rain that floods the road and challenges visibility.  In Taylor, we pilgrims stop to rest and replenish our minds and bodies with conversation and good Texas barbeque with pinto beans, slaw, pickles and onions.  The years of rich smoky air browning the walls will stick to our clothes leaving a sweet reminder of time past. Refreshed we continue our pilgrimage on state route 79 to the cemetery to pay our respects to my grandfather, grandmother and mother.  In 1946 the year he passed, my Grandfather Eph asked my father to bury him with a view of the road heading east to Thorndale, the town where he raised his children and supervised the cotton gin.  We stand on the hillock, the cold wind blowing rain in our faces, and pay our respects to our loved ones.  All around a world of grey: sky and two-lane highway.  I think of Desolate Angel –  Dennis McNalley’s biography of Jack Kerouac –  and the words “the great walking saint would be a pilgrim who would traverse until his death America’s streets and roads as penance for its sins, loving all its creatures – inhabitants, asking the cars as they hurtled by ‘whither goest thou?’ “

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