We lived next door to Dave and Betty Turner for over thirty years. During that time we got to know their children, and then their grandchildren and even their great grandchildren. They were friendly and generous people whose door was always open, sometimes without even a need to knock. We loved knowing that they were so close at hand and that they would always treat us like family. When we decided to move it was difficult to leave them because they had always meant so much to us. Eventually Dave died and Betty moved to a town in east Texas called Pittsburg. She built a house right next door to her daughter Vickie and settled into a comfortable routine that has made her feel very safe and happy.
We missed Dave and Betty from the beginning of our life in our new neighborhood. We made friends here but they kept moving away and new folks would move in only to leave after a short time. We are now the senior residents on our street, having lived here longer than anyone else. We can’t quite become accustomed to the more vagabond ways of the modern world, and so we long for neighbors like the ones that we once so enjoyed. When a For Sale sign went up next door a few weeks ago we shook our heads in dismay and both felt an urge to go visit Betty. We made a reservation at a state park in her town and gleefully headed her way.
The journey took us through the heart of east Texas which is dotted with small towns built around various industries and shaded by huge trees. It’s a lovely drive through forests that surround beautiful lakes. Main streets feature quaint old buildings and antique stores where sweet people smile sincere greetings and welcome strangers. I’m reminded as we drive along of my father once insisting that east Texas was the prettiest part of our state. In many ways his observation is true.
Pittsburg, Texas is home to Pilgrim’s Pride Chicken. The Pilgrim family homestead sits on a hill behind a gate adorned with the pilgrim head that is so familiar on the packages of chicken. There is a big office complex and a factory of some sort along the railroad tracks, but the chickens are raised by local farmers. People in the area speak highly of Mr. Pilgrim who is now deceased. They tell stories of him walking the aisles of the local Walmart handing out little books in which he had placed cash, or presenting money to every single high school graduate. His imprint on the town is everywhere including in a little park with a bell tower that he presented to the citizens as a place where they might go for solace among gardens and a tiny chapel.
Betty’s house is about eight minutes from the center of Pittsburg in an area of wide fields with horses and cows grazing under big oak trees. She has a magnificent view whether she’s sitting on her front porch or enjoying a cup of coffee on the back deck. It’s a nice place and it makes us smile to see her looking so happy there.
We spent an entire afternoon and much of the evening with Betty. Her daughter and son-in-law joined us to exchange stories and get us up to date on the happenings. Betty had major heart surgery about three years ago. A helicopter flew her to the hospital in Tyler where she was well cared for while her son-in-law was having his own medical emergency at the same time. Both of them are hale and hearty now, but Betty does not have as much energy as she once had. She owns a scooter that she uses to get around the neighborhood. There is a ramp on her deck that allows her to easily move from the house to the road. She loves the freedom and security that her new living arrangement allows. She and her daughter and son-in-law take care of one another and have a great deal of fun.
While we were visiting one of Betty’s granddaughters came by with her little girl. She was quite young when I saw her last so it was shocking to realize how much time had gone by from the time that we moved from our old house. We had fun playing with the child who was enchanted by Betty’s assortment of dogs and cats. We munched on homemade cookies that Betty’s daughter called “death” cookies because somebody that she knew always seemed to die shortly after she made them. We were relieved to learn that the consumers of the cookies always do just fine. We ate a few more than we should have because they were filled with chocolate chips and coconut that made them taste as though someone had melted a Mounds candy bar inside them.
Later we all gathered around Vickie’s table to indulge is a delicious roast beef dinner that she had prepared. Vickie is a great cook but I suspect that her hospitality is what made everything so special. She even whipped up a batch of homemade banana nut ice cream for the occasion. It was sinful and quite delightful, but not nearly as much as the wonderful people who were going out their way to entertain us. They even suggested that we bring our trailer to their land the next time that we come and we will have everything that we need for comfort.
The time passed so quickly that I was shocked to notice that we had been there for well over eight hours. It’s amazing how good friendships are so easy to rekindle. I suspect that we might have visited for eight hours more, but we needed to return to our campground before they locked the gates for the night. With full bellies and hugs and promises to return soon we reluctantly left our dear sweet Betty. I felt as revitalized as I always did when I would go next door for a quick hello. Betty has a way of looking at life realistically but with great optimism. She is a wonderfully uncomplicated soul who takes in strays and loves them back to life. I can’t wait to sit across from her sipping on some tea when next we return.