Years ago as a teenager in the mid-1960s at the height of the civil rights movement, I would take the bus down from the dusty and dry plains of West Texas in August to go to high school in San Antonio in South Texas, returning home for Christmas and then for the summer.
I loved the trips. The trip south was the more exciting. Back then buses were clean and safe, and the bus driver through his mirror looked at me to make sure I was secure and he and his bus would carry me to a completely different world. Listening to my little transistor radio – that age’s version of the iPod – I would stare out the window and watch the land begin to fall and the flat and empty terrain change. The further south the bus sank the greater the number of trees and the greener the grass got – and some of the rivers actually had water in them.
The Hill Country was always beautiful. It is like no other part of Texas, especially in December. The bus would roll by ranch homes, with singular rows of red and green lights outlining their roofs, snuggled in between the hills. Thin trails of blue smoke would drift from their chimneys. I was a blessed soul seeing Christmas cards come to life. I especially liked arriving at little Mason, Texas, whose courthouse seemed enchanted. It appeared to me like a little Hapsburgian castle. Ringed by a small stone fence, it seemed to have dropped from an Austrian sky. I half-expected the Archduke Ferdinand to step out of it and get gunned down by Serbian nationalists.
The reason my thoughts would turn from idyllic and romantic meanderings so abruptly to thoughts of violence was only moments away. Just as U.S. Highway 87 bends away from the courthouse a huge billboard in black letters on a white backdrop proclaimed “Martin Luther King is a Communist” with the word communist underscored.
Memories of those times came back to me this week when a news story popped out about a man named Crockett Keller, who owns a gun shop in Mason. Keller refuses to make his services available to Muslims and to people who voted for President Obama. Well, that would include Catholic me and most HispanicLatinos. How sad. It was a far different experience for me when the bus stopped for a few moments in Mason by the side of a store. I would run in to buy a candy bar and Coke. The German lady recognized me after my first trip and would always smile. In between the haters and the angered, other people make the world better.
I wish I could remember when the sign changed. King was assassinated in 1968 precisely so that no one in the country would be discriminated against as Mr. Keller seems to think he has the right to do.
After the jarring sign, the bus would continue to flow south, and I would get excited. Within yards of the road just north of San Antonio, a spring would gurgle from the ground. A real spring. For someone from the driest part of Texas, water springing from the ground is a near miracle. Memory unreliably brings back the name of the spring as Joshua, the prophet who led the Hebrews to the new land of Canaan. In one of the battles the Hebrews had to fight, God is said to have hurled hailstones from the heavens to help them.
My first thought for Mr. Keller was a ton of hailstones, except that after all these years, I remember Dr. King, and I realize there always will be people like the gun shop owner. He was preceded by the people who put up the long-gone billboard. They were there in 1965, they exist in 2011 in the likes of Govs. Jan Brewer in Arizona and Robert Bentley in Alabama and the Loudon County Republicans in Virginia who circulated a picture of President Obama shot through the head – and they will persist even until 2065.
But there always will be people like the bus driver and the German lady at the little store. And there are other many good people in Mason and even in Alabama and Arizona and Loudon County.
And there will be always springs of hope.
Blogs published Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays or invariably in between.