Parking lots galore & church windows but no bananas
When the author Thomas Wolfe wrote "you can't go home again" he was only half right. He was expressing a truth that many have experienced. For the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to "almost" go home again. To wander through memories of half a world ago -- from half a century ago.
My return home was made possible by being invited to teach during the May short term at Howard Payne University. The class I taught was unique in itself as it included 19 Taiwanese students from the land we lived in for ten years.
As I looked out the third-floor classroom window I could see things the students around me could not see. Down below on the parking lot were two trees, these everyone could see. But I saw more. For in my minds-eye, instead of the parking lot between the trees, there stood an old garage, not visible to others, called up only by my memory. I could also see the steps leading up to a one-room apartment over the garage. A humble little dwelling my new bride and I called home. The first of nearly 40 dwellings we would call home in the years to come.
Besides the garage apartment that no longer stands between Main and Center Streets, there were other landmarks -- drastically changed or missing. The First Christian Church's buildings on Austin and Center has been replaced by HPU's music school.
Across from where Old Main stood (the greatest loss of all), Jody and I once had dinner with Dr. and Mrs. James Basden, then pastor of my home church, the First Baptist Church. The lovely parsonage of that church is also now a parking lot. The banana trees that once graced the east side of that church I am told have been gone a very long time. They never produced bananas as far as I remember.
Across from the Baptists on Fisk was the stately First Methodist Church, now demolished. That was where my Brownwood High School's Baccalaureate service was held in 1947. My parents were married in that church in 1925. The chapel under the steps of that grand old church building is where Jody and I were married in 1950.
The good old First Presbyterian Church building, a block north of the Baptists and Methodists still stands to the credit of the followers of John Knox. First Presbyterian became Union Presbyterian Church when the Austin Avenue Presbyterians left their historic building and moved over to Fisk Avenue.
On the lawn of the Union Presbyterian Church I found not all the beauty of the past had been turned into a parking lot or thrown into a land fill. The church's sign retained selected sections of the stained glass windows from the long-gone Austin Avenue Presbyterian Church.
That beautiful glasswork was brought out of storage and sure ruin by my uncle, James Edward Towery. The church also gave two of the Austin Avenue church windows to the MacArthur Academy of Freedom building, The windows that were sold brought in much needed money to renovate the beautiful Union Presbyterian Church.
I am very proud of the fact that these windows can still be seen and enjoyed because James E. Towery save that bit of history for future generations to enjoy. During my "return home" I learned the windows story during a delightful visit with James and Ann Towery (and my last cousin in Brown County, Nadean Orton George, the Towery family historian).
I started out to see the Austin Avenue Presbyterian Church one more time for it was there I went to band practice when I first took up the coronet. But I was several decades too late to see it.
The once-majestic Brownwood Hotel (known to some as Sid Richardson Hall when owned by HPU), though no longer in use is still a landmark. Texas Highways magazine for June has a photo of Brownwood's only skyscraper with the comment: ". . . The Brownwood Hotel, will break your heart twice -- once, because [it is] so beautiful, and once again, because [it is] so sadly neglected."
So in a sense I was able to go home again last week. Mostly by calling up memories of faces, places and experiences long lost on today's Brownwood.
----- May 26, 2000Previous Menu Next