Tuesday, August 23, 2011

the dividing line

It occured to me tonight how grateful I am that my parents moved last year, just down the road from the university I attended.

I wanted to get out of the house tonight, to just enjoy this place.  The town where I went to school isn't small, but it really isn't overgrown, either.  It isn't a proper suburb, overrun by everything corporate.  For all that I am a capitalist, my heart gravitates toward the provincial, the old-fashioned, the unique.  I went to a huge university that happens to be tucked in a town that provides all of that.

So Randy and I went to my favorite bookstore (well, my favorite that doesn't belong to Larry McMurtry).  It is an old opera house on the Denton courthouse square - a beautiful, rambling place that smells like history and books, just the kind of place you imagine in a university town.  This place has secret corners and corridors and one of the best collections of certain kinds of history books (tonight we discovered a set of first-edition publications of the Nuremburg trial papers - um, whoa).  I used to go there while I was at school, with one or two friends, and we would go to the basement where they keep the Texana collection and sit on the floor reading, and come home with one or two musty-smelling tomes on obscure politicians or somesuch nonsense.

The courthouse square was lit up as always with white lights.  If it hadn't been 102 outside (according to the Denton Area Teachers' Credit Union sign), it might have felt like Christmas.  The courthouse was built in the 1880s and is still in use for the commissioners court.  And on the lawn, there were couples talking on blankets, having inexpensive college-era dates.  The fall semester of classes begins this week and the shops that were still open were full of wide-eyed freshmen getting to know the town for the first time, and wise upper classmen coming back for their first taste after a summer away.

We walked around the square, window-shopping at the antique shops that close much earlier in the evening, and headed to the old-fashioned ice cream shop that is a positive staple of life in Denton.  It was a busy evening, but you can't go to the square and not stop in this place, with the heavy, sugary smells and the hiss of the waffle irons making fresh cones.  We sat at the counter and marveled how, despite the noise and press of college kids on a seeming field trip, the place had the feel of 1905.  You almost want to order a phosphate (which they sell) or look for the kid who played a young George Bailey putting sprinkles on a glass of chocolate ice cream.

It was a most necessary adventure, however mundane.  I had to be reminded that I made it to adulthood.  This city is full of memories I made without my family, the place I came to live on my own for the first time.  Being here at home, surrounded by my sisters and my brother and my dad and my mother's ghost, makes me feel too young.  I feel uncomfortable after awhile, like I never left and everything that came after childhood was a dream.  It helps to have Randy with me; it helps even more to have tangible things with which I am familiar.  This place has changed, but there is the storage unit my friends and I rented to make our homecoming entry; there's the bar where we celebrated so-and-so's 21st birthday; there's the apartment complex where the girls lived and we plotted revolution the way naive kids in their 20s might; here's the Whataburger we went to after the radio show.

It wasn't all a dream.

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