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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Going Home to a Ghost Town


Down old highway 72 is the small town of Nordheim, TX. The population has been 300 or less as long as I lived there and now that I'm gone it's got one less person to count. The "city hall" is located behind the fire department which still has $5 BBQ plates some Sundays, and for a while my uncle was actually mayor. He got tired of the politics of dealing with the antiquated county commissioner and moved out of the city limits in order to avoid being re-elected.

On Broadway - the main drag through the town - is a tiny restaurant and bar that has been closed down for several years now. My brothers and I used to go there when our mother was at the bar across the street and the owner would let us in the back to make burgers. She made the best burgers according to any of us because she let us stand on chairs and help her cook them. Several years ago some men got into a fight and she tried breaking them up when she was struck in the head with the thick end of a pool cue. She was hospitalized and slipped into a coma and never came out. I think about her every time I pass her bar, which is sadly getting less and less often.

The town always had the three bars while I was growing up, and when I was 5 one of the two restaurants shut down. I remember getting a burger, fries, and a drink for less than $3 at that restaurant with my grandfather. The Cactus - the second restaurant - was only good to eat at when a certain cook was there, but no matter who was working they had the best battered fries in the area. They're closed now, too. I go home now and the old general store is still open, one bar has changed management yet again, and the other one is getting more and more new things because the owners struck it rich when oil was found - and drilled - on their land. A building that has never known air conditioning now does, but the big plate glass windows still have the original paint on them. Me and my cousins went in one of the back storerooms there once with a Ouija board and found out there is a ghost named Dan haunting the place.

Down the street across from the school is the park with its huge gazeebo and merry-go-round that my grandpa used to oil all the time. They used to plan town-wide Easter egg hunts in that park, and each store in town would put in prizes. One of the bars also rented movies, so they'd throw in a free rental. The feed lot would throw in a free candy, and the general store would put in a free ice cream. I once won free tacos from the Cactus. It was an explosion of plastic Easter eggs and kids in their church clothes running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I don't even know if they still do that anymore.

At the end of Broadway is the town dance hall. All these old towns have dance halls and most of them are easier to find than almost anything else in the town. Take Garfield, TX for example. I've never actually seen the town of Garfield but I have volunteered for many years at the sausage dinners. You have to drive through Nordheim - if you can find the town - in order to get to their dance hall.

May Feast used to be a huge thing in the town. It was our only source of fun for the year. The seniors would have a dunking booth, the church always had homemade ice cream, and the softball teams would play. There were also always craft booths, too. They stopped the Dunking Booth several years ago and everyone who remembers it misses it. The seniors do still do the sno-cones to raise money for their class, and the church still does the ice cream. The softball teams still play through the weekend, and they still have polka all through Sunday. But it's not the same. Last year, they had 1 craft booth. They used to have a popular live band play for the dances on Friday and Saturday, now it's a not-so-popular new band on Friday and a local DJ on Saturday. They are putting an effort into attracting more craft booths - it's free to set up a booth this year and it was free last year, just please donate for the upkeep of the hall. Now, though, the only draw of May Feast is the cook-off, and it's not as big as it used to be.

I'll be at May Feast this weekend visiting family and I hope they have a May Feast next year. It's a tradition I want my daughter to be able to participate in. If they have one next year, I do plan on having enough stock to have a booth. But you should really try to support your local small towns. There are memories there that most cities don't come close to.

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