The places we visit are never as perfect as they are in our memory. My grandmother’s house in Farmersville, Texas no longer exists. A remodeled version of the Dairy Queen I visited as a barefoot child sits beside the highway and still serves up chocolate dipped cones and cheeseburgers. You can see the Dairy Queen from the overpass where I used to stand with my cousin and spit on the cars passing below.
My husband and I drove up to Farmersville on the weekend, a short day trip from our home. Over bridges spanning the lake, past trailer parks and fireworks stands to the little town that was once the Onion Capitol of North Texas.
The Onion Shed sits near the town square. In the 1960s I helped my mother and grandmother fill burlap sacks with discarded onions, the rejects spilled and tossed onto the grass from the railway cars where the Collin County Sweets were loaded for shipment. No longer filled with the round yellow bulbs, you can find a flea market there on the first Saturday of each month.
We wandered through antique stores on the town square. I am always surprised to find the toys like those from my own childhood, stacked on dusty shelves and labeled “vintage.”
There were no toys in my grandmother Mattie’s wood frame house. A print of Jesus knocking at the door and a framed copy of the TV Guide with Johnny Carson on the cover decorated her living room wall. If I slipped from my mother’s view I would have just enough time to explore Mattie’s bedroom. I could hide under the fuzzy chenille bedspread and peak out through the fringe skirting the bottom where it brushed the floor. Visiting children were turned out into the yard, chased from the house by apron-wearing women too busy with cooking and serving to put up with our foolishness.
Small towns often have treasures tucked away, to be uncovered by those with time and patience to wander. The post office sports a mural painted in 1941 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
A short walk to downtown from Mattie’s house, over the railroad tracks and to the pecan tree shaded park, and I could find the snow cone stand there in summer. Crushed ice in a paper cone that dissolved as the treat itself melted to slush in the heat. But I could drink the last of it, my hands, lips, clothes stained red, purple, blue, green.
There were no snow cones for sale on the day we visited, but I bought a Dr. Pepper from one of the stores. Andrew and I sat and shared the drink on a bench near the old movie theater downtown.
Closed for years, posters from films starring the hometown hero, Audie Murphy, hang on the front. I imagine my mother there on a Saturday night, palms slick with butter from the popcorn.
We ended our visit with a stop at the Odd Fellows Cemetery. My grandparents, Grover Cleveland Cullum and Mattie Elizabeth Watson Cullum, are buried there, as are their parents. We searched for their graves but couldn’t locate them. I hadn’t been there in years and the day was too hot for much effort. The one place in town that hadn’t changed but I couldn’t rely on my memory to find the family plot.
We did see some interesting gravestones.
“Some of these people were alive during the Civil War,” Andrew commented.
“Yes,” I said.
Tired and sweaty, we climbed into our air conditioned Honda and headed home. Past the shops downtown, the onion shed, the park, the railroad crossing, stopping at last near the overpass so I could hop out and snap a photo of the Dairy Queen. Then onto the highway and home, leaving behind the layers of memory. My mouth, dust dry as I lean over a metal guardrail, the low mournful train whistle in the dusk, the sharp scrape of sidewalk on bare feet, the candy syrup from a grape snow cone, icy cold contrast to a dog summer day. The scent of sweet onions, yellow and round as baseballs, hidden like Easter Eggs in the soft green grass.