Where Everybody Knows Your Name

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Posted by Kathy Waller

Driving around my hometown the other day, I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw a sheriff’s department patrol car, right behind me, with a flashing lightbar on top.

I’m not accustomed to that kind of thing, not on a street I’ve always considered mine.

I’ve been pulled over by DPS officers on the highway. Twice, I think, for mild speeding, twice for an expired inspection sticker. I consider that a pretty good record for a person who’s been driving since she was ten.

I’m a good girl, I am.

If any of those officers had known how old I was when I first soloed, they probably would have ticketed me retroactively. But I was just one of several pre-teen drivers in my town. No one thought a thing about it. Our parents taught us well, and they limited our range to the business district: grocery store, post office, and Dick Ward’s ice cream parlor, all about six inches from everywhere else in town.

From years of observation, I knew whom to watch out for: drivers who reversed without warning, either crept along at ten miles an hour or floorboarded it, pulled left before they turned right (a holdover from their horse-and-buggy days), drove on the left side of highways and streets (including streets so narrow they didn’t have a left side), veered across the center line while staring intently at the car they were veering toward, rolled through stop signs because they didn’t see them, or because, like my grandfather, they thought stopping would cause a wreck.

I knew most of these drivers personally, because we were related: Dad (my grandfather) and his siblings–Aunt Ethel, Uncle Carl, Uncle Maurice, and Aunt Jessie. Although they were in their seventies and eighties, their driving skills hadn’t deteriorated one bit–they’d driven like that ever since the first Model T rolled off the line. It was in the DNA.

My father, fortunately, didn’t inherit Waller gene for vehicular autism, and he made it clear that if I had, I’d better keep it to myself. If he or my mother heard I’d done something untoward–everyone knew who I was and many would have been happy to report, including the myriad members of my father’s family, especially the terrible drivers–I wouldn’t get near a steering wheel again until I was thirty. So I had a vested interest in being careful.

I was being careful the day the patrol car flashed its lightbar.

When the deputy approached, I gave him the toothy smile of innocence.

He asked whether I was having any trouble.

“Noooooo, thank you?” Wide eyes added to toothy smile.

“Well, I saw you driving real slow and I thought something might be wrong.”

Oh. “No. I used to live over there, across the corner from the baseball field, and I’m taking pictures of places I remember.”

He replaced his deputy smile with a real one. “I see. Well, I saw you stopping and taking pictures, and I just wanted to make sure you weren’t planning to come back and break in and steal stuff.”

“I live in an apartment now,” I said. “I don’t have room for any more stuff.”

He laughed and got back in his car. I pulled onto the street, turned left at the next corner, and again checked the rear view mirror. He wasn’t following. I continued my picture-taking.

My town is changing. It has been for a long time, but now the changes are more noticeable, because many of the things I remember are no longer there, or won’t be much longer. And it seems the places and things I have the fondest memories of are the places and things that have changed the most. And that look the worst.

What’s most difficult to get used to is that only a handful of people know who I am. Bill’s daughter, Frank’s granddaughter, the little Waller girl . . . Now I’m just a woman driving too slowly–as if that were possible on those narrow streets–and stopping to take pictures.

You know that street a couple of blocks north, the one where the sign says, Waller Street? The one that runs past my great-grandmother’s house, and where the old warehouses and the seed houses  and the Mobil station used to be? I could have said. That’s who I am. But I don’t think it would have made much impression.

Driving on too slowly, I considered how easily I’d gotten off. The deputy could have ticketed me for the unbuckled seat belt. If he’d asked to see my driver’s license, he’d also have asked why my glasses were on the passenger seat and not on my face. And if I’d pleaded cataract surgery and excellent distance vision without glasses but miserable distance vision with, he could have nabbed me for not going down to the DMV and having the picture updated.

Taking the what-ifs to another level, I imagined what would–not could, but would–have happened if the deputy had suggested to Aunt Ethel that he suspected her of planning a burglary.

She would have lifted her chin and assumed her haughtiest stare–which was pretty darned haughty–and informed him that she was a Waller–pronounced Wawlah.

And, wiping the smile off his face, he would have gotten back into his car and floorboarded it all the way back to the county seat–on the left side of the road.

***

Thanks to my friend Patsy for allowing me to take pictures of her horses. If she’d been home, I would have asked permission first. Since I was pulled over right in front of her house, I would also have yelled for her to come outside and vouch for me.

***

Kathy Waller blogs at To Write Is to Write Is to Write (http://kathywaller1.com) and at Austin Mystery Writers (http://austinmysterywriters.com). Two of her stories will appear in the anthology Murder on Wheels, soon to be published by Wildside Press.

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33 Responses to Where Everybody Knows Your Name

  1. Kaye George says:

    You can’t go home again, can you? Lovely post you got out of this, though. Thanks.

    Like

  2. Lovely post, Kathy! And beautiful photos too. But it must be comforting to know the deputies are alert to suspicious characters. 🙂

    Like

  3. vpchandler says:

    Bittersweet post. It’s happening all over rural America. Places are disappearing.

    Like

  4. Patsy Kimball says:

    Good piece, Kathy. Carolyn and I were discussing the same ideas recently. Remember when a first name on a post card would get it into the correct post office box. Remember when folks spent time sitting on the front porch or lawn. Remember when Dr. Luckett charged $2 for an office call. Remember when etc., etc., etc. Bella loved the photo shoot.patsymunkkimball@gmail.com

    Like

  5. I really enjoyed this post Kathy, and I envy you. I always yearned to live in the same town, have relatives around and be in familiar places. Alas, it was not to be. We moved all the time as children because my Dad would be promoted. As an adult it was the same way, so I’ve never lived in one place too long. You have created a nostalgic post about family, friends, and Law Enforcement and have intertwined the characters well. Your photos are great! Looks like you had a good outing, even though you got stopped. Glad everything went all right.

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    • Kathy Waller says:

      It was a good place to grow up, We did live away for nearly three years, and that was good, too, but I was glad to get back home. Getting stopped was okay, except for the initial surprise. Thanks for your comment.

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  6. You can go home again, but it’s never the same. Our memories are long and thankfully so. It is nice however to be able to go back and see how things have changed. In todays world we have scattered across the country, but home is where the heart is now.
    Lovely post and beautiful photos.

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  7. Doris says:

    The “Cheers” song rang through my head when I finished this delightful post. I left that ‘everybody knows you’ years ago, but still have the fond memories. (And some not for fond) Things do change, and sometimes we need to go back are remember. Thanks for the memories. Doris

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  8. Wranglers says:

    Entertaining, I was raised partially in the country, where the only one close enoufh to know my name was Grandma, and the other half in a village where not only did they know your name, they knew all your business. Cher’ley

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    • Kathy Waller says:

      Yes, knowing everyone’s business was part of small town life. It also provided a great deal of entertainment. I’m sure my family amused the neighbors as much as they amused us. In a place where there wasn’t much to do, that was important. Thanks, Cher’ley

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  9. Mike Staton says:

    One of the better posts I’ve read recently. Made me think of all the changes in my life over the years, some good and some rough ones. Reminds me of the first time I heard Iris Dement singing “Our Town.”

    Like

  10. A lovely read……as I type from my childhood bedroom in my parents’ house.

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  11. Neva Bodin says:

    Enjoyed your post. I did “go back” to where I grew up, after I turned 40, and my husband and I farmed on the family farm for 12 years. It was fun, I reconnected with many childhood friends and made many new ones. I do not live there now but remanin in contact with many and since I have to conduct business there yet for myself and my sister who is older, I find my name opens doors since people got to know me personally, and we’ve been gone 17 years again. I also found facts about myself even I didn’t know sometimes! Love those small communities. Nice lead in to your memories.

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    • Kathy Waller says:

      Thanks, Neva. It must feel good to have your name open doors there. I was surprised recently to be referred to as the town historian. I hadn’t realized I was old enough for that, but it’s a good thing to be.

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  12. My hometown is the same. A lot of places that were here when my family first moved here in 1973 are gone or soon will be. Because of my limited vision, I’ve never driven so never had any run-ins with the law. Once however, a policeman on a bicycle stopped to ask me if people were stopping to let me cross streets with my white cane. I had just jaywalked and was afraid he was going to arrest me for that. This inspired my book, We Shall Overcome, which you can read about on my Website at http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com/Novels.htm .

    Like

    • Kathy Waller says:

      Thanks for the link to your site. Your book is now on my To Be Read list. I know what you mean about being afraid the policeman would arrest you for jaywalking. I manage to feel guilty about doing nothing wrong whenever I see a policeman.

      Like

  13. Kathy Waller says:

    Reblogged this on To write is to write is to write and commented:
    Today I’m holding forth at Writing Wranglers and Warriors about my near-arrest for preparing to burgle.

    Like

  14. Kaye George says:

    Oh yes, I know that song! I like it. (Our Town)

    Like

  15. Patsy Kimball says:

    One of the most lamented events for me (as I continue to live in my hometown of Fentress) was the removal of our historic skating rink that now languishes in disrepair on 183 between Lockhart and Luling. There most of us — including my dad and others of his generation — skated, played basketball, met new friends, held parties, and celebrated community events.

    Like

  16. Gayle Irwin says:

    Delightful post, Kathy! Your scene of taking pictures and driving slowly through streets reminded me of my last hometown visit, about 2 1/2 years ago. I’m sure I’d have been “busted” too if a cop had happened along, and I kept wondering when neighbors would step out and ask me what the – – – – I was doing! LOL I do enjoy going back and “seeing” again though. Thanks for sharing part of your story/your past with us.

    Like

    • Kathy Waller says:

      Thanks, Gayle. So many of the residents are working now, I don’t know how many would be around to check on my suspicious behavior. The shock was in seeing the deputy. In the olden days, it was a major event to see any law enforcement officer in the vicinity. I guess we weren’t interesting enough to merit the attention.

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  17. Nancy Jardine says:

    Kathy- Your photos are fabulous…and very empty of people. It’s hard for a city born person like me to imagine your small town upbringing and driving at 10 is amazing. 17 was definitely the earliest legal limit I could attempt to learn to drive. ;-,) Changes are inevitable everywhere, i guess, but the traffic police maybe not so much!
    When I was 40, I went back to the part of Glasgow that I grew up in – along with 5 of my old school mates. None of us lived there anymore and it had changed so much.

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    • Kathy Waller says:

      Thanks, Nancy. There may be more people living in the area now than there were when I was a child, but today everyone works–no open doors, no women hanging out laundry, nobody sitting on porches or standing around the post office to chat. This part of Texas is changing rapidly and will continue to do so. Unfortunately, much of the change will be in the addition of concrete and asphalt. It’s already difficult to find any cows.

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  18. sstamm625 says:

    I love this, Kathy! What a wonderful post! Your reference to “vehicular autism” made me laugh out loud, and I can just picture your Aunt Ethel. The photos are fabulous too. Thanks for this!

    Like

    • Kathy Waller says:

      Thanks, Stephanie. I’d never thought about it until I started writing, but when a lot of those older folks got behind the wheel, they seemed to shut themselves off from all outside stimuli. I stopped riding with my grandfather when his lack of respect for stop signs scared me only slightly less than it did the driver heading toward us at forty miles an hour, leaning on the horn.

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  19. S. J. Brown says:

    It sounds like your trip down memory lane was bittersweet. But on the bright side you didn’t get any tickets. I love the photos they really show the essence of the subjects.

    Like

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