Swamps and steeples.
Pines and pickups.
Barbecue, beer, bayous and Baptists.
Holiness and honky-tonks.
Wildflowers and wandering roads.
In East Texas, springtime feels like it just rained, or is about to.
There's no horizon, and the humid skies are usually Confederate gray as the warm Gulf air sticks to you.
More than the air sticks to you.
Driving in East Texas is like going back into the womb almost. It's warm, and wet, and ... green.
This is one of the places families are born, and grow, and spread out like runners from the ivy growing up the trunks of the hardwoods, across miles and years.
You realize that when you go back for the funeral of an aunt, your mother's youngest sister and her friend.
You realize that as you sit around in lawn chairs visiting with cousins you hadn't seen for years.
The memories of earlier years come flooding back, drenching you like the soft Texas rain which begins as a mist and then just seems to saturate every green plant before moving on elsewhere. And without horizons you can't see the rain coming or going, but it leaves pools of standing water and wet pavement and water-dappled leaves to mark its passing, like the memories.
Memories of playing as a child with cousins, or aunts and uncles doing magic tricks, or playing the guitar, or playing 42. Memories of walking to a nearby Mom and Pop store to buy 5-cent Cokes and 3-cent candy bars. Memories of going to grandma's house where she made cornbread in old cast iron forms. Memories of teen-agers going to the corner drug store to escape the heat. Memories of sitting on a porch with a summer girlfriend, watching the rain come down and the moments sweep by.
Memories of aunts and uncles and parents long gone.
"I feel like I'm going back in time when I come here," I tell two of my cousins mourning the death of their mother..
One cousin replies: "In this town time stands still."
One of my favorite cousins, who works in a nursing home, says in her soft East Texas drawl, "I work with time every day."