Slice of Life: Greenwood
I dedicate this post to my dear sister-teacher, Sharon Williams. Her roots grow deep in Greenwood.
It is a hot August evening. We drive slowly along the back roads of Wise County, and although the scorching high for the day was 107 degrees, we ride with car windows rolled down and the AC off. We want to savor the sensations of yesteryear–
When we were young and a ride in a car meant windblown hair and parched lips.
When a ride in a car meant we would jump, squeal, and flap our arms because jumbo-sized grasshoppers would landed with scratchy feet on our bare arms.
When in unison we’d wrinkle our noses and grab the window handles to roll them up as we exclaimed, “Ewwwww! Skunk!”
When we could hear the panting and see the saliva dripping from the tongue of the farmer’s dog chasing the wheels of our car.
When we would hold our arms out the windows and let the hot air billow through our cotton blouses. There never was a drop of moisture on our skin.
And so on this August evening, we ride with the windows down and the AC off.
Motionless trees droop in the withering heat. Cattle, scattered across the parched pastures, munch slowly on the fading grass. Dust clouds drift lazily behind us, churned up as we creep along the forever dirt road. Katydids sing their dry endless tune of summer heat. Overhead a bird circles, near a farmhouse a dog barks, but nothing else stirs.
Back on the slightly paved road we make our way to the childhood hometown of Jean, my friend’s mother. A few houses come into view. Some occupied, some deserted — windows boarded, drives overgrown with tall, scratchy weeds, some collapsing under the weight of forgottenness.
We catch a glimpse of the WPA-built stone building where Jean spent her school days. The road curves and starts to slope toward Hart Creek. It seems greener; it feels cooler. This is where, Jean told us, the trees were tall and beautiful, where people gathered, and life bustled.
The trees still stand tall, a couple buildings remain. But where our road T’s into another country road — the heart of the old town — there is no red light, no stop sign, no green sign pointing the way to another town. And life is not bustling.
Beside the road stands an old fashioned water pump, painted red, offering us access to the city well. Behind it is a very small wood frame building — the Post Office. An historical marker stands in front. Next is a wooden building — once a mill, now the Urquhart Museum.
Across the street is the only building with any evidence of life — red neon letters spelling OPEN. We pull across the street and onto the gravel shoulder to park by the edge of that building. This is the local grocery, grill, and gas station. Greenwood Grocery–Gas, Grill, Ice, Air is written in white letters above the country porch. Here is a place that the traveler of the super highway will never know. A place that offers food from the grill and ice for the ice chest in the back of your station wagon. And two things for your automobile — gas and air; remember the tires with tubes that need to be checked and aired regularly?
Only those who follow the back roads and visit their lingering towns appreciate our sense of wonderment as we walk across the porch where old men once gathered to pass hot summer evenings playing dominoes, swapping stories and jokes; as we pull back the squeaking screen door; as we push past the heavy wooden door, and step into the past. Our eyes adjust to the shadows and we are thankful for the coolness emitting from the window air conditioner.
Childhood memories awaken with the sight, sounds, and smells that assail me. It is a single room containing a half dozen or so assorted tables surrounded by empty chairs. I wonder where the people come from who sit in those chairs and eat at those tables. We were told by the man who rents Bessie’s old homestead that there is good catfish to be had here on a Saturday night. Standing room only.
Beyond the tables, lining the back walls are wood shelves reaching to the ceiling. The shelves hold grocery staples like flour, salt, canned beans and a portable TV and a fan. There, with his back toward us, stands a man, a weathered cowboy hat on his head, a container of salt and cans of beans in his hands.
Behind the counter to our left is a slip of a lady, hair pushed back from her face, spatula in hand. She smiles. Behind her on a well-used grill are two hamburgers, each atop a pile of sizzling onions awaiting the buns that are toasting in a puddle of butter. The air is heavy with a down-home aroma, and I wish for a moment that we had not yet eaten supper. The man renting Bessie’s old home had also told us these hamburgers were the best.
Back outside, along the side of the building are two large tanks– above ground gasoline tanks. A pump, probably circa the 60s, stands between them. Our lazy reminiscent drive had not been planned, and we need gas — just a couple gallons to get us back to Decatur. This is where we will get that gas. Sharon pumps 2.0 gallons.
This is Greenwood, Texas!
History of Greenwood, Texas
Greenwood was established in the 1870s by two cowboys– Hart and Greenwood –who gave their names to the area: the creek near their campsite became Hart’s Creek and the town became Greenwood. Historical records tell us that Tenvill Cecil built the first cabin and Wag Wilson built Rock Ranch, a stone house used as a fort in the constant battles between early settlers and Indians.
The Post Office was established in 1877. By 1884 Greenwood had a population of seventy-five, a steam gristmill, and a cotton gin. In 1892, with a population of 200 and growing, the Greenwood Male and Female Normal College was built. In 1908 it burned down, closing the teacher preparation school permanently. As a thriving rural community, Greenwood had a weekly newspaper– the Greenwood Enterprise (opened in 1886); a hotel– Campbell Hotel (1895 to 1920); two dry-goods stores, two drugstores, and a blacksmith.
With continuing growth, by 1914, Greenwood had a telephone company, a bank, four grocers, three general stores, and two drugstores. However, after a series devastating fires that did irreversible damage, population fell to 100. During the Great Depression population rose again to 314, and the WPA built the stone schoolhouse. But by1949, Greenwood had a population of only 200. It decreased even more after another terrible fire in 1957 which wiped out half of Main Street.
And Greenwood, a bare whisper of its former years, has never been rebuilt.