In recent months, I have traveled twice to San Angelo, Texas on business. For those unfamiliar with a Texas road map, that is a drive of about 370 miles from my home. You leave the South far behind long before you reach San Angelo. Incredibly, El Paso is still another 400 miles further on. Although vistas such as the one above might suggest that the road holds long stretches of nothing much at all, such is not the case. There is plenty to hold your interest--that is (as I like to say, with apologies to Evelyn Waugh)--if you are interested in things.
One such place of interest to me is the dried-up cotton town of Rowena. The highway between Ballinger and San Angelo just barely clips one corner of the town. About all one can see from the highway is a number of boarded-up cotton gins and abandoned farm machinery--but the impressive spire of a church indicates that there might be reason to double-back and poke around a bit. And of course, I did that very thing.
If they were to ever make a remake of The Last Picture Show, Rowena could definitely be a contender for the movie shoot. The town was obviously once a going concern, laid out properly, about 6 blocks by 8 blocks. The downtown area, was completely boarded-up. The most impressive commercial building was the old bank, built in1909, according to the plaque on the wall. I thought I detected a light on inside, but there was no visible sign of activity. There were 2 Suburbans parked behind the building, so perhaps the banker and a teller were keeping the doors open. Rowena did boast, however, at least 5 watering holes: a VFW Hall, a S.P.J.S.T. Hall, a Sons of Hermann Hall, D. J.'s Bar and the Turning Row Bar. It is nice to see a community with their priorities still in order.
I drove out the other end of town and turned around at the cemetery, or I should say, cemeteries. All three of them were lined-up in a row: the large and well-kept Catholic Cemetery, the Protestant Cemetery about half that size, and the much smaller and somewhat forlorn Evergreen Cemetery-a branch of the mega-cemetery of the same name in the county seat. And so, I was able to form some conclusions about the town's beginnings: an old German-Czech Catholic West Texas cotton town.
I passed by the old two-story stucco schoolhouse, long closed but still in relatively good shape. The only real going-concern in the town seemed to be the St. Joseph's Catholic Church, a graceful brick edifice, accompanied by hall and expansive school--which apparently now served the community in place of the public school. Rowena was not completely a Catholic company-town, however. I saw another building that had once obviously been an old stucco church, now converted to a residence. But the oddest thing, I found on the edge of town. I ran across a small frame church--probably from the late 189s or early 1900s--on a largely residential street, 2 or 3 blocks east of the main street. The ruins of a much larger brick church were immediately adjacent, on the same lot. The cornerstone read: Deutsche Evangelische Zoar Kirche 1928. I found it interesting that the German was still in play, even at that late date. This was one of those solid churches built in the popular style of that day--with outside stone steps leading to the sanctuary above, and classrooms below. These German Evangelicals were wise not to tear down their older church upon building this impressive replacement. In time, the newer building burned--or at least the top of it did. Not willing to waste anything, the congregation tore off the rubble, made a flat roof and retained the rooms below--and the stairway now leading nowhere. The congregation moved back into the old building, and used the rump newer building as their classrooms and hall. The old Zoar German Evangelical Church is no more immune to the trajectory of American Protestantism than any other evangelical church, and so now it is, as one would expect, the Zoar Community Church. At the bottom of their sign, it reads Se habla espanol. In fact, the only people I saw in the entire town were Hispanics. No doubt the descendants of the German pioneers still own much of the surrounding farmland, and keep the lights on and the beer flowing in the Sons of Hermann Hall. But for all practical purposes, German Rowena has smoothly transitioned into Hispanic Rowena. Having a really nice Catholic Church and school in place just makes it all the easier. There's some irony here, I suppose. And many in my state would be alarmed at the demographic shift I have casually described. I am not among their number.
On my way back, I made a slight detour at Glen Rose, home of the Dinosaur Valley State Park. A number of years ago, dinosaur tracks were discovered in the old bed of the Paluxy River, and the site has became something of a tourist attraction in those parts. I did not go to the State Park, and was not inclined to peer at the dinosaur tracks. Science, paleontology included, has never interested me. What did amuse me was the human absurdity clustered just outside the park. Billboards all around promote the "Dinosaur World" exhibit, which imply that it is a component of the real dinosaur tableau presented by the State Park. Not so. "Dinosaur World" is a cheesy tourist trap just outside the State Park entrance. The entrance looks like it came right out of "The Flintstones," with pterodactyls perched atop for effect. And there's no way to miss the T-Rex out front. But lest one get carried-away with all this paleontological secularism, a Christian fundamentalist group operates the "Creation Evidence Museum" on the road before "Dinosaur World." Frankly, this is not a battle with which Orthodox Christians need to unduly concern themselves. Friend-of-this-blog Owen linked to an interesting (if very lengthy) article by Deacon Andrew Kuraev, here, which sets out an Orthodox perspective on such things.