This I Believe

JOhn - Carlsbad, New Mexico
Entered on May 22, 2007
Age Group: 65+
Themes: community, place
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“Things have a way of working out for the best.” This is a statement I heard many times when I was growing up in Groom, Texas, a small farming and ranching community in the flat prairie of the windswept panhandle. I think we said it often so we could avoid the truth and remain in a state of denial. Groom rhymed with doom, and most of us felt that we were doomed to a life in Groom. What was there for anyone in Groom but a hardscrabble life in a poor town surrounded by dry land farms and dusty ranches with skinny cattle? My only salvation was a job at our weekly newspaper, The Groom News, with Max Wade, editor and publisher, a man who was as smart and sardonic as Mark Twain. He lived all of his 93 years in Groom. He taught me to operate a Linotype machine, and I had a skill. I prayed that as soon as I turned eighteen I could escape from Groom and never return. In fact, my parents (minimum wage workers–mother a waitress and father a farm laborer) reminded us almost daily there was no future in Groom. “If you want to make something of yourself, you’ll have to leave this town. There’s nothing here for you. Get out as soon as you can.” I took their advice. At eighteen, with no money for college, I joined the Marines — even more doom than Groom. But things do have a way of working out for the best. I survived. Then I went to college, and now I’ve spent more than thirty years as a teacher and administrator, something I thought would never happen to a son of Groom. I’ve been back to visit only for my father’s and then my mother’s funerals. I have realized that I am like millions of Americans.

We escaped the doom of small towns. We traded one doom for another — the quiet desperation of life in urban places. Now, I believe there must be a middle ground, a place where I can have the freedom of living in a small town, barely getting by, but having friends and neighbors who help me get through the hard times, and the other place, where I can enjoy the creature comforts offered by urban life, even though it’s hard to get to know anyone in a place where we all seem to be strangers. I have never been able to get Groom out of my mind. That arid town that today is drying up and blowing away is my birthplace, where I learned how valuable other people are. However, I still go back to what the Groom people said. “Things have a way of working out for the best.”