My paternal grandfather lived in the tiny town of Kermit, Texas for close to forty years, in a rental house on a dusty lot down the street from the high school. No doubt, he could have bought the house outright, and surely paid for it twice over in rent, but the burden of home ownership was not one he wished to assume.
My father and his brother and his sister lived with their mother after their parents divorced, as far east in Texas as Kermit is west. His mother liked to do things like beat them with skillets and throw bottles at their heads. When that got too much to bear, the kids packed up and moved themselves across the state to live with their dad.
Grandpa was an oilfield man, and Kermit was an oilfield town. When he moved there the middle of the 1960s, the population swelled to over 10,000 and things were hopping. There was a winning high school football team, a hospital, and a Sonic. The last time I visited Kermit, only the Sonic remained. Katie was 2 at the time, and we spent the day walking up and down the sidewalk in front of the dirt yard, picking weeds. We went to dinner at the local Mexican restaurant, and stopped for a cherry limeade at the Sonic.
Kermit is quiet. The population now holds at around 5,500, and the hottest weekend activity is driving into Odessa to the Wal-Mart.
No one admits to driving across the border into New Mexico.
Grandpa had a deep, unexplained hatred of New Mexico, which he passed on to his children. "Goddamn New Mexico," he'd spit the words out. Nothing further was ever said, as if anyone would know exactly what was wrong with New Mexico.
The weekend I was there, we cut back the giant Rose of Sharon that had taken over the front porch. Grandpa never entered through the front door, and it was unlikely that anyone else would either. He had a girlfriend who would visit sometimes, but she would always slip in quietly through the side door.
People talk in a small town. You can still be a whore, even when you're 70.
We sat around the small, chipped formica table and talked. Mostly about my father, who'd passed only a few months before. Grandpa's voice and hands shook and his eyes were raw with loss and grief, but his voice stayed strong and steady. He told stories I'd heard a million times before, but knew I was surely hearing for the last time. We talked about Kermit.
"Why have you never left?" I asked him.
He seemed surprised. "Why would I?"
2 weeks ago