The greatest of civilizations share a truly singular unit of measure: Roads. Not militaries, nor fleets, nor banking systems. Roads. Great roads are built by great civilizations. The Romans of course took the concept from rough path to fully realized and useful road. The greatest civil engineers ever, the Romans made roads that spanned their entire empire, from the edge of Scotland to the Fertile Crescent and beyond. Those roads largely still exist. I know because I lived very near one when I lived in Wiltshire in the UK. Laser-straight, unlike the crazy, winding roads the British build, this road went southwest from Gloucester, towards someplace NE of Marlborough. Now mostly paved over by the A419, it became a back-road that ran from right in front of the farm we lived on, and into the village of Wanborough. It even maintained its unBritish, very Roman straight line through the Cotswolds and the hills south of the Thames valley. Who knows what the Romans were connecting, but they did it as they did everything; ruthlessly and STRAIGHT.
As the Romans did then, so do the Texans now.
Having driven in all fifty of these United States I have to say that nobody builds roads as well, and with a Romanesque desire for Euclidean geometric precision as the Texans. If it has two lanes, why not make it four? If it has four lanes, why not make it access-limited and build multi-lane frontage roads on either side of it? While we’re at it, let’s make this thang as straight as possible y’all?
Gawd, I love ’em. Hate the weather. Could care less for their religion (Football: High School, College, and The Dallas Cowboys are the Holy Trinity of Texas.) Nor am I a fan of the landscape, which outside of a couple creases in the corners where it buts up against the Mexicos, Antigo to the south, and Nuevo to the west but, hot damn ya gotta love those Texas roads!
Testa Rossa and I get a late start out of Houston, partly to avoid morning rush hour, but mostly because we’re slow, and know we are not going that far. We plan on driving out to a family farm outside Brownwood where Testa Rossa has some memories, and some closure to seek. She was very close to an older woman there for many years. But life and issues put time and space between them, and the older woman passed away about four years ago. They had not seen each other in close to a decade, and the fact that they never had their farewells was a source of pain for her. Knowing that this drive was planned, I offered to make that our first planned stop, and she gladly accepted, made some contacts with the right people to make the arrangements.
Thirty-some years ago, I too was familiar with these roads, as I occasionally shuttled between family in Houston, and my chosen place of higher learning: Texas Tech University in Lubbock. More on that later, but suffice to say, Brownwood was on one of my usual routes back then, and I knew the way. About an hour west of Houston, we leave the Interstate and strike off northwesterly on Texas State Highway 36. This fine road, which is built to a standard that some states would only reserve for a major US Highway, takes travelers through central Texas. It zig-zags its way between the Brazos and Colorado rivers, managing to thread its way northwest without going through any of the bigger cities and towns of central Texas, such as Austin, or Waco. I chose this route back then as I do now, because you can maintain forward momentum and avoid delay. Texas Highway 36 does go through many tiny towns, each with the Texas trademark town square holding the courthouse, memorials to their town’s part in whatever past conflict (from 1845 onwards), and some unique way of going around said square. Some towns on Texas Highway 36 have a circular roundabout for their square, others have a square you navigate around, others just have theirs off to the side. The largest town Texas Highway 36 encounters is Temple, which has a nice loop road to take you around it. Overengineered roads make Texas travel pretty nice.
At Gatesville we leave Texas 36 and traverse due west to Goldthwaite on US 89, then northwest to Brownwood on US 183. The landscape is just starting to take on the slight flavors of West Texas; fewer trees and broader horizons.
Outside Brownwood, we find the county road, that takes us to the gravel road, that takes us to the family farm.
I have no connection with this place, I am merely the driver that brought her here. She has deep emotional ties to this place and that woman who she loved an admired so much. We meet the current caretaker of the property, who Testa Rossa initially mistakes for his father… ah, the genetic blessings and curses we all carry. We walk the property that hasn’t seen Testa Rossa’s footfalls in over a decade. She needs to see her mentor’s resting place, so we head for the tree.
Here beneath this tree, in the middle of the property so dear to her and her family, lies the woman who meant so much more than I could ever describe. I kept to myself and let the two make their peace and savor the memories. Afterwards, we walk the property some more, seeing places, landmarks, and objects that allow the other two to share memories, tall tales, and stories of human foibles. A bystander, I just serve as audience, and observer. As the sun sets it brightly illuminates a nearby thunderstorm an I happen to capture a moment, and a look on her face that sums up all the joy, sadness, melancholy, and happiness she is feeling…
Back at the farmhouse we talk into the night. All the words said, we climb into the old car, and drive to Comanche with Texas thunderstorms in the distance to provide a light show, where a hotel room awaits us.