“Time is like a river, it flows in bends.
If we could only step back around the turns,
we could travel in either direction.
I’m sure it’s possible.”
I’ve been home to Texas City many times since I moved away, thanks to the encouragement of my classmates and the GOTCHA girls, but only once have I been there unannounced and unknown to friends or relatives. And I’ve always believed there’s magic in being where you aren’t expected to be.
I had business in Houston, and I didn’t think there would be time to get to TC. However, I had several hours before my flight, so on impulse, I rented a car at Hobby Airport and drove down the freeway, to the town that was once a soft place for my 10-year-old heart to land. I was rootless before 1955, and TC was a gift of kindness and stability.
All these years later, on this unplanned visit, I drove up and down Sixth Street and Palmer Highway, sought out what used to be Blocker and Danforth Schools, and stopped in front of my old house on 17th Avenue. I drove out on the dike, as we all do when we visit. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Egypt has the pyramids, but TC has the dike, and we love it, residents and alumni alike.
When I’m in Texas City I experience the old cliché in reverse. The town seems bigger than I remembered, not smaller, as people sometimes view the landscape of the past. My schools, my house, TC itself – they used to be just big enough to shelter those who loved it there. Now things seem larger, curiously strange and familiar at the same time
The profound experience, the magic of being where I wasn’t supposed to be, happened when I parked at the old high school. I walked over to the gym, and I felt a shift, a softening. I stood still, then I took a step around the bend in Einstein’s river. I let go of time. The air around me changed, the colors, too, and I was there, in 1963. In the reality of time and space, I had just turned 70 years old. In that moment I was 17 again. I felt the hair blowing around my neck, long like it used to be. I was light and free, like it is when you’re very young.
I remembered the brick walls, and the windows, and I wondered: did they remember me? Could the glass into Mrs. Morton’s classroom see me? Could the sidewalk remember the brush of my feet in the colored tennis shoes that were popular senior year?
The gym doors stood open, and I heard the belly thump of the band playing the fight song. A pep rally, so it was Friday. The parking lot bulged with ‘57 two-tone Chevys, black and white, turquoise and white. Girls in dresses floated by like butterflies, and boys, tucked up and clean cut, smiled at them, and at me. Then a cloud covered the bright blue memory, moved on to another day in 1963. This was where I stood when I learned President Kennedy was dead. I felt my boyfriend’s tenderness as he embraced me, and felt my shoulders shake against his chest as I cried.
Then like dreams do, just when I thought I might stay there, in the kind days when we grew up at leisure, the river of time brought me back. I imagined the words of our senior yell: Here we are, there ain’t no more . . . And it was over. The gym was silent. The windows and walls were just windows and walls, inanimate and un-alive, not looking at me, not looking at anything.
It was Sunday again, and my rental car was alone in the lot. I had one last thought about our strange journey through time. In the sunny days of childhood, it took seven long years to get from 10 to 17. But the time it took to go from 17 to 70? Just a week. That’s how time works now. A week from 17 to 70; maybe only a day from 70 to what comes next.
I had a plane to catch, and another home to go to, but I’ll return to Texas City as often as I can, open to another moment of magic, knowing that no matter what, the GOTCHA girls, my classmates, my friends, and my hometown will make me welcome, always.
Rebecca Long Hayden graduated from TCHS in 1964 and now lives in Northern Virginia with her husband of 48 years. They have two grown children and three grandchildren. Rebecca is the author of Tuesday in Texas, a memoir about growing up in Texas City in the 50’s and 60’s (available on Amazon).