Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Podunk USA - a re-post

In 2009, I stumbled across this nifty little article from another friend's blog that is about my hometown of Cleburne, TX.  In it, it describes with scary accuracy Cleburne and what I personally think of it.  It really does capture the frightening essence of a town left behind by time... and by me...

"My father grew up in a very small town in Texas called Cleburne. It’s about twenty-five minutes outside Dallas, and it is absolutely the most miserable place I have ever visited in my life. I used to dread taking family trips to visit my grandmother, aunts, and uncles (of whom I have fourteen on my father’s side) because entering Cleburne was like entering a foreign country. The rules as I knew them just didn’t apply.My father was born in 1941, three months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He was raised in Cleburne, current population 29,050, with his six brothers and sisters in a two bedroom house right next to the train tracks. His mother, my grandmother, is currently 98 years old and living alone in the same house she’s lived in since she married my grandfather at 17 years of age. She has never been on an airplane and never traveled further than 50 miles from the place of her birth. All seven of her children live within 200 miles of her. Most of my paternal family lives in Texas because if they were to move anywhere else, the culture shock would probably kill them instantly.

I have never been to Appalachia, but the entire time I was reading Kathleen Stewart’s A Space on the Side of the Road, I kept picturing Cleburne, Texas. My experiences in small-town Cleburne, although no where near as dramatic as Stewart’s in Appalachia, are overwhelmingly similar to the cultural atmosphere that Stewart found “by the side of the road.” Cleburners have their own manner of speaking that is almost unintelligible to outsiders, inflecting their words with meaning and sound that was foreign to me as a child. I was always incredibly confused by the meaning of the word “drawers” whenever I visited my grandmother. A drawer to me was a place to store clothes or toys. A Cleburner firmly believes that “drawers” are the same as “underpants.”

But despite such petty examples, overall the feeling that I got from reading Stewart’s book was the same feeling I used to get while visiting Podunk, USA. Stewart writes:

“Imagine, in short, how culture in an occupied, betrayed, fragmented, and finally deserted place might become not a corpus of abstract ideas or grounded traditions, but a shifting and nervous space of desire immanent in lost and re-membered and imagined things. Picture the effort to track a cultural “system” that is “located,” if anywhere, in the nervous, shifting, hard-to-follow trajectories of desire and in-filled with all of the confusion and aggravation of desire itself. Imagine a world that dwells in the space of the gap, in a logic of negation, surprise, contingency, roadblock, and perpetual incompletion.”

This is Cleburne. A remnant of an old America that no longer exists. The town is poor and small. It used to depend on oil and farming, two sources of income that are dwindling now in the area. Beautiful farmland has been superseded by commercial structures, fading and becoming dingy with neglect. It is a place that still harbors the old seeds of racism and conflict. A place where people are aware that they should be tolerant, but just can’t bring themselves to comply. A place the young are constantly trying to escape from (my father married at 18 just to leave his mother’s house — the marriage failed, not surprisingly), and the old can’t bring themselves to leave. The gaps that Stewart talks about so often in her book are everywhere in my memories of Cleburne, a place stuck in a memory and tradition that the rest of the country has left far behind."

~(my reply)~

"Wow. Nice to see someone else out there has the same view as me. I was born and raised in Cleburne and I managed to not only survive and escape, but I was also able to flourish thanks to my self-sheltering imagination (which turned out to be a double edged weapon as it also made me quite shy and timid) and then later in life, the internet fed my constant cranial needs. I absorbed as much culture as I could get my grubby little paws on, even in my earliest of years. I knew from the first tangible sentient thought that there was something terribly wrong with this place and it was keeping a great deal of knowledge from me, strangling my very being. I was always gasping for air. I yearned for interaction with people, books, buildings, and LIFE in general. I’m lucky that I did not escape by the means that most youth “escape” Cleburne, that being heavy drug use which is ironic in itself that it just strengthens their anchor there. I was very amused to see others so trapped in that cycle and know that it was the wrong answer. You could often find me smirking at others because I held all of the correct solutions, all the right cards if you will, and I knew that this town would be their lifelong destiny. Even though I hold such loathsome feelings for this little speck of dirt, it was rather nice to take a proverbial stroll down that memory lane. Much better than the real thing. ^_^"

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