Andrews, TX – You Can Always Come Home

I got in last night from a trip to my hometown of Andrews, TX.  I hadn’t been there in about 20 years.  I was able to visit with some old friends and friends of the family and it was a great time.  As I expected, it was an emotional trip too.  Last Friday I walked around my old neighborhood.  No one was outside, it was a quiet neighborhood…just like I remember when I was growing up.  I walked down 12th street, past Jaime Swift’s old house on my left and remembered playing in his backyard, digging ditches with his mother’s good spoons, I’m sure she always appreciated wondering where her silverware was and his dad surely enjoyed finding all their stemware in the back yard every time he mowed the grass.

I walked past the Jones house on the right at the end of the 1000 block and remembered the giant cave they dug in their back yard and the time Lance Jones pushed my sister Martha off the trampoline, smack into one of the big mulberry trees they still have.  I cross the street onto my old block to the Moore house on the corner just across the street from the Jones’.  The pigeon cage they used to have in the back yard was gone.  From what I heard, Dr. Moore, the town veterinarian, has passed away.  He helped us get a blow dart out of our dog Sylvester’s head once.  Some mean kid experienced some bad Karma over that I’m sure.  Mrs. Clark’s house is on the corner on the left.  The front yard is surrounded by 2 foot high cinder block fence.  They used to grow little green onions on the side of the house and we used to cook them over fires that we’d start in the alley.  One time, me and Erik Wilson almost burned down the whole alley way and if Mr. Clark hadn’t jumped his fence with the water hose, I’m sure we’d have burned down the whole block of back yard fences.  Mr. Clark’s gone now too.  From what I heard, he passed away one day after mowing the grass.  He sat down on his recliner, fell asleep, and never woke up.

Then came my house.  It was a sad moment.  There used to be three trees out in front of the house that my dad planted for each one of us.  It was a red brick house with a big planter out front.  If you looked at the front of the house you could see the giant mulberry tree in the back yard.  There was a big tree house in that tree and underneath it was a sign that my mom had brought home from the dentist office where she used to work “The Bad Breath Club.”  All that’s gone now.  Whoever lives there painted the red brick and tore the planter down.  I didn’t look into the back yard.  It would have been too upsetting.  It wasn’t run down, it just wasn’t the house I grew up in.

I crossed the street and continued walking down the block that I remembered as such a big place.  The block was five houses long and everything was so small.   As I walked up the block, a little girl on a scooter pulled up behind me.  “Am I in your way?” I asked her and she pointed to the old Gregory house and said, “That’s my house.”  Bud Gregory and his wife died in that house and the Guzman’s moved in when I was in 5th grade.  No matter who you were, you were always welcome in the Guzman home.  I wanted to take a picture of the house but didn’t feel comfortable with two kids and a family being out in front of it.  I circled the block, walked by the Wilson’s old house.  Next door to them was Mr. Criswell’s house.  I looked up the street and the emotion flowed over me again as I saw Jack Horner Kindergarten on the left.  I remembered the time me and my sister, Martha, planned on spending the night on the covered patio to teach my mother a lesson for making us walk home 8 blocks after fighting with each other in the car.  We had our plan laid out when our big brother, Robert, pulled up on his little blue bicycle and said, “Mom knows ya’ll are here and she says, Come Home!”  Our plan had been foiled.   I sat on the same little bench that I had been on 35 years ago and thought of how good life had been for the kids in that neighborhood.  I remember sitting in a circle with a dozen other 5 year olds and reading Dick and Jane readers.  The building is used for storage now.  How good I had it and I didn’t have a clue how fortunate I was to grow up in a neighborhood where there were no worries and no concerns.

We played tackle football around the fastest merry-go-round in the world.  The field we played on behind the Jack Horner was huge at one time.  Now it looked as small as my back yard.  I picked up a few pine cones for my daughter to put together in her own little artistic way for the desk in my office.

I walked around the Fetner’s old house and kept walking down 11th street and walked under a Mulberry tree, grabbing a leaf as I walked under.  I took a picture and sent it to my sister with the message, “Remember when we used to put these under paper and color them?” She sent me a message back telling me how she got emotional when I sent her that message and it’s funny how what seems to be the most insignificant thing can bring on a flood of memories.

I drove by James Coffman’s old house and remembered the time he had a big birthday party and as we played cops and robbers, I got clotheslined across the mouth (literally by a clothesline).  I fell backward on top of a water spigot and I still have the dent in my back.

Later in the day I went to the Commercial State Bank with John Kraft.  I looked across the street and noticed what used to be the La Hacienda Mexican restaurant that my parents opened.  La Hacienda is a booming restaurant now.  Back then, it was a place for me to play in the back underneath the big tree using the roots as bridges for my hot wheels.

Afterwards, we drove around town for a bit.  I had to drive by my Aunt Rose’s old house.  It looks completely different too.  Me and my sister spent countless hours laying around on her floor, going through her records and listening to Barry Manilow, The Pointer Sisters, Captain and Tenille, Doobie Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, and many more.  Many of these records I have found over the years and now my children laugh when I tell them we used to listen to this music all the time.

We met Gilbert Peters in front of the Middle School.  Our friendships started when we were small and they just got stronger as the years passed.  When we got to Middle School and our personalities took shape, we didn’t grow apart as some kids do, we just got closer. From what I hear, this part of the middle school is used for storage too.  My dad’s orchestra class took place in this building.  Mr. Rose’s art class was the most fun I ever had in middle school and there’s still a wood sculpture of a tennis player that I did hanging in my son’s bedroom.

We met up with Patty Guzman, Gilbert, and two of his workers at Buddy’s Drive Inn.  We ran into Johnny Delgado there.  We ate the famous Buddy’s steakfingers and they tasted just like I remembered.  We talked and laughed and started our weekend of sitting around together and telling old stories. You can see on the sign that this place has been around since 1969…..that’s right around the time me and my friends were born so this place was part of our worlds for as long as we can remember.

Everyone went their separate ways until later in the evening when we would get together again at Gilbert’s house.  It was funny because Gilbert asked, “What are ya’ll doin’ tonight?”  and I said, “Coming to your house for dinner.”  It was me, Gilbert, John, Brian Jeffcoats, Patty Guzman, and Mark Bairrington joined us.  He brought his two kids and we sat around again for hours joking and laughing.  It was 2am before we decided to end the conversation and turn in for the night. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the desire to stay out that late.  The next day, we met up at Cassidy’s sub shop.  This place wasn’t around when I was growing up in Andrews.  I visited with Stephanie Tonroy on the front porch and Steve Smith and his family walked up. Steve got upset that Brian didn’t call him the night before but he quickly forgave him and we picked up where we left off the night before…poking fun at folks, remembering things and trying to forget some of the things we did.  Thanks for reminding us of all those things Gilbert 🙂  Stephanie made the astute observation that when we were all in middle school we walked around the lockers like a bunch of psychiatric patients and again we laughed until our bellies ached.  After lunch, Stephanie took off and us guys piled into one car and drove around town talked about all the things we remembered that happened in different parts of town.  Everyone had a little story for every other block that we drove by.  I laughed so hard a couple times that I got light headed.  We went to the high school and walked around, took a picture together in the Dome and the laughs continued.  This was the dome where we spent a majority of our time between classes.  It was the social meeting ground and everyone milled around up until the very last second before the bell rang.  I took pictures of the new sports facility and thought to myself, “these kids have no idea how good they have it.”

We parted ways again with the plan of getting together again at Victor Guzman’s mother’s house.  I went back to my hotel room, showered, and ran by the Tucker’s house.  Mrs. Tucker opened the front door and looked at me, not knowing who I was.  I said, “Mrs. Tucker…I’m David Barrera.”  Her eyes widened, her hands went up and she said, “David Barrera! Get over here and let me hug your neck!”  She hugged me and said, “Get in this house!”  We sat down on the bar in their kitchen and caught up.  Mr. Tucker went to his room and came out with a metal sculpture that my dad made for him years ago.  “You have to tell your Daddy that I still have this.” I think I heard them say “We just love your family” or “We just love your parents to death” about a dozen times while I sat in that kitchen.  They got upset with me for staying at a hotel and invited me and my family to come back and stay with them.  I hugged them both and it felt like hugs from another set of parents.

Victor was flying in from Tennessee and Patty and his mother had been cooking all day in preparation for everyone coming over.  As usual, we sat around, told stories, and joked and laughed.  It was great to see Patrick, Victor, and Patty again after all these years.  Mrs. Guzman is still one of the sweetest ladies I know.  Mr. Guzman already passed away and I missed him….I can only imagine how much his family misses him.  I sat with Victor and he told me, “You have no idea how hard I looked for you in Houston one time.” It meant a lot to me knowing that an old friend went to a city of three and a half million people and looked for me.

We drove a few blocks to a block party close to the middle school and walked around.  The city was having a celebration and we walked around, gave the kids time to run around and we visited some more.  Everyone decided to take off for the night and we said our goodbyes to Victor, Patty, and Patrick. We made sure we had each other’s phone numbers and we promised to stay in touch. Patrick and Patty hugged me at the same time and it was just like I was talking to my own brother and sister when I said, “I love you guys.”

The next day I slept late and met Gilbert and John for lunch at La Hacienda.  It’s grown over the years but the quality of the food is nothing compared to when Jess and Halya Barrera (my wonderful parents) ran the place.  We spent another hour and a half of joking and laughing and we knew our time was short.  I was going to meet up with Troy Yarbrough after lunch, run around town and visit some folks and then head back to Corpus Christi.  It was a weekend filled with hugs and folks telling each other “I love you” and “I’ve missed you.” My parting with John and Gilbert was no different.  Gilbert said, “I never really knew how much I missed people until this weekend.”

I drove out to Troy’s shop and Stephanie Tonroy came out and visited with us for a little bit.  Troy’s wife Kim showed up and when I wanted to take pictures they both refused because neither had make-up on.  Stephanie took off and me, Troy and his son, Taylor headed out to see folks.  We started off at the Gilliam’s house.  We pulled up and Mr. Gilliam walked out the front door.  “Hey Troy….who you got with ya?”  I said, “Hello Mr. Gilliam, I’m David Barrera.” Again…just like at the Tucker’s house, his arms went up around my neck and he hugged me and said, “Get inside this house.” Mrs. Gilliam walked out of the back room and I walked over to her and she looked at me not quite knowing who I was.  I said, “I’m David Barrera.” She hugged me and said, “Oh My Goodness.” We sat in the living room and visited for about 40 minutes.  Mr. Gilliam said, “I’ve missed you kids.  There’s never been a group like you and there’ll never be a group like you in the future.”  We all played tennis together and just like most parents at sporting events, the Gilliams were a permanent fixture at the tennis tournaments.  Mr. Gilliam would stand behind the windscreens and cheer you on whether you were his kid or not. Shanna Gilliam and my sister were State champions and I’d like to say what drove them was not only their hard work but the people cheering them on behind the wind screens, folks like Mr. and Mrs. Gilliam.

From there we went to Mrs. Clark’s house.  I’d already walked by there two days earlier and now I was knocking on the front door.  Mrs. Clark opened the front door and said, “Can I help you?” “Mrs. Clark, I’m David Barrera.” Same response, a hug and an invite into the front living room.  Mrs. Clark took care of me when I was in kindergarten.  Her and my mother were back and forth comparing crafts and I still remember the macrame baskets hanging around her house.  Mrs. Clark said, “your mom told me that you liked coming over here because I would let you crumble crackers in your soup.”

We crossed the street and we went to the Jones’ house.  Billie Jones answered the door and invited me and Troy in without knowing who we were.  There’s things that people do in a small town that you would never imagine doing in a big city.  Even then, it’s dangerous.  I introduced myself again and Mrs. Jones said, “I was inviting you in and I had no idea who you were” as she gave me a big hug.  We visited and talked about all the good times all of us kids had running around the neighborhood.  She talked about the big cave her boys dug in the back yard and I reminded her about the warped tree house we all put together and about the concrete bike ramp we built behind her house.  As I was leaving, she told me to tell my parents that she’s at the same address and she wants to send them a Christmas card.  She was showing me her fish pond as her two grandsons (Lance’s boys) climbed out the window into the back yard.

We went back to Troy’s and he showed me his work of art kitchen and then I drove him and his boy back to his shop.  I got out of the car and gave him a hug and we talked about a future vacation together and the possibility of him and his family coming to visit us in Corpus Christi.  As I drove toward Odessa, I looked and saw Andrews in my rear view mirror.  I couldn’t wait to get out of that little town when I was 18 and after 22 years of being gone part of me wanted to stay.  I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see but I’m sure i’ll be back.  The people are special in that little town.  The friends I made there as a child will be my friends forever.  We’re doctors, lawyers, supervisors, electricians, soldiers, business owners, nurses, police officers, and school teachers.  We’ve been to war. We’ve crossed oceans and continents.  We’ve lost close friends and family members.  We’ve made a good living and lost everything…just to climb back up and do it all again.

We’ve survived cancer and illness and some have lost those battles.  As police officers and soldiers we’ve taken lives and we’ve saved lives and we’ve survived the trauma that comes with the realities of life.  We’ve raised family’s and some of us even have grandchildren already but when we come back to Andrews, Texas we walk through the neighborhoods where we grew up and we go back in time to a place where we had the best childhood anyone could have asked for.  We sit down across the table from each other and as my good friend John Kraft said, “we pick up our conversations like we just saw each other yesterday.”   We look different, some more than others but (from the words of Gilbert Peters), “They can look in your eyes and you’re the same person everyone remembers.”