A place I have never lived somehow feels like home. Halfway between Houston and San Antonio lies a land suspended in time. It’s a land where wild vines wend relentlessly up trees and fence posts, soon to hang heavy with Mustang grapes. Where cattle slowly dodge mesquite and cactus, tails swishing, to find shade beneath the low branches of a live oak. Where every house has a front porch, and the screen door has slammed behind four generations. Where the tea is sweet and the language slow. It’s the land of my people.
This 20-mile radius of farming communities was my father’s whole world from the time he was born until he donned fatigues and shipped off to Korea. It was my grandparents’ world before him, and my great grandparents’ world before them. My great, great grandparents left their native country and endured untold hardship for the hope offered by this land. This black Texas dirt has worked its way into our very DNA.
This is a land where every five miles a church spire towers above the trees, next to a dance hall and the remains of a cotton gin. Weimar, Dubina, Ammansville, Schulenburg.
And next to each church, the final resting place of the souls who once tilled the land and raised the church spire toward heaven. The headstones — Hromadka, Janecka, Janda, Witt, Bartos, Mazock, Vacek, Cernoch — tell the story of an Eastern European exodus to a promised land. Side by side, these Czechs, Bohemians, Moravians, Austrians and Germans rest from their labors in the ultimate melting pot. These are my people.
Today the rolling fields of verdant pasture are dotted with cattle, but once they were covered in white peaks of cotton. Four generations picked cotton here, under the searing Texas sun. Sharecroppers, too poor to own the land, they worked it for a meagre subsistence. And when they rested from their labors, they sang songs in their mother tongue and danced to forget their toil. These are my people.
I return to this land because I cannot stay away. My father’s bare feet once stirred this ancient dust. He walked these country roads to school until he dropped out to work. The screen door to Kasper’s meat market creaks just as it did when he was a boy, and once inside, the same earthy, spicy aromas greet the nose.
I eat the sausages and kolaches my daddy loved, as if we were sharing them together again. Because we are. He is here, in every back road of this ancient land, deep in the heart of Texas.