October 2023

The Persistence of Memory

Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce


It was the summer of 1964, so I would have been 9 or 10. At the height of that season, the midafternoon was too hot for even a heat-inured Texan boy to play outside. But I hated being cooped up indoors, so I would take my book and sit on the covered porch and read through the afternoon. My baby brother wasn't quite walking yet, but with the front door open, he could make his way to the screen door and pull himself upright. From that position he would watch me read, never uttering a sound or trying to come out, a silent witness. Once I needed to go inside and I didn't realize how solidly he was leaning against the door and when I opened it partway, he fell onto the concrete floor of the porch. I was horrified, worried that I'd killed or seriously hurt him. I lifted him up and he shook it off immediately, not crying, silent as always.

We had moved to Henrietta, Texas, in the summer of 1963 upon my father's graduation form the Episcopal seminary in Lexington, Kentucky, and his ordination as an Episcopal priest. His pursuit of the priesthood was sponsored by the Diocese of Dallas, where I was born, so his first assignment was to serve as the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in this very small town about 122 miles northwest of the city.

Henrietta didn't come into view looming over the prairie like Dallas,
Ft. Worth, or Oklahoma City, visible from miles away and teasing one with the appearance that one was almost there when in fact it was still half an hour or more away. One passed through mile after mile of open country, ranches and farms, the highway crossed precisely each mile by a Farm-to-Market road or other passage out of the farmland. A few outbuildings, grain elevators, warehouses and the like, indicated that one was arriving, and then the sign: Henrietta, pop. 5,280. (The fact that after sixty years I can still remember this precise number is part of why I am relating these memories now.)

A fascinating aspect of aging that many experience is the way that very early memories come back vividly even as many events from the intervening years fade or jumble together. For some reason, my relatively brief residency in Henrietta returns to me in bright images, sonic memories, and even smells. I've been able to capture these once in a while in poems, but the whole period remains clearly delineated in my mind. Though I have forgotten names and most faces, I can visualize the buildings, the streets, and the surrounding landscape as if I had just stepped away from it for a minute.

We first moved into a large, rambling house built probably in the early 20th Century. It did not have central air conditioning, which would have made it nearly uninhabitable in the long summer, but was equipped with window units. My bedroom, rather than a standard window air conditioner, came with what was called a swamp cooler. A pan of water, continually refilled by a hose, was appended to the back of the unit and a cylindrical fan, resembling a paddlewheel, blew air over the water and into the room. It was surprisingly effective. We lived in that house for a short time while the church (or perhaps the Diocese, I never knew which)  completed construction of a new rectory on the other side of town across a vacant field from the church itself. This home is where the near-disaster involving my brother occurred.)

Naturally Trinity was the only Episcopal church. The parishioners were mostly fairly well-to-do ranchers in the area (though none were greatly wealthy). Most Henriettans were Baptists and there was one Catholic parish which I suppose mostly served the small Mexican-American population. Today, Trinity still ministers to the Episcopalians of Henrietta, St. Mary's Catholic Church is still functioning, while there are five Baptist congregations, two Methodist churches, and one Church of Christ. The latter was the most fundamentalist of all the religious institutions in town, offering no music, discouraging dancing, smoking, and drinking, and banning card playing on Sunday. I vividly recall one Sunday, playing Go Fish or some other innocuous card game with my parents after lunch, when my father casually mentioned that if we were Church of Christ we wouldn't be allowed to engage in this pastime. I was stunned, almost as if he had said that they prohibited the consumption of enchiladas.

Moving to such a small town involved a bit of culture shock for me, who had previously lived in Dallas, a very large city, and Lexington,
KY, smaller but still a genuine city. Nevertheless, many adventures awaited.

--to be continued--


Share This Page

View readers' comments in Letters to the Editor

Gregory Luce is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
He is the author of five books of poetry, has published widely in print and online and is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Retired from National Geographic, he is a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA.
More at: https://dctexpoet.wordpress.com/
For his other columns and articles in Scene4
check the Archives.

©2022 Gregory Luce
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine



October 2023

  Sections Cover · This Issue · inFocus · inView · inSight · Perspectives · Special Issues
  Columns Adler · Alenier · Alpaugh · Bettencourt · Jones · Luce · Marcott · Walsh 
  Information Masthead · Your Support · Prior Issues · Submissions · Archives · Books
  Connections Contact Us · Comments · Subscribe · Advertising · Privacy · Terms · Letters

|  Search Issue | Search Archives | Share Page |

Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine
of Arts and Culture. Copyright © 2000-2023 Aviar-Dka Ltd – Aviar Media Llc.

Thai Airways at Scene4 Magazine