Saturday, November 30, 2013

`The Passing Tribute of a Sigh'

Industry, Texas, is a town of 300 souls founded in 1831 by the German-born Friedrich Ernst. Most of the surnames on the stones in the town cemetery are German, including the memorably named Teufel. Fifty years later, Ernst wrote a letter to family and friends  who were still in the old country, and his description of the region, 75 miles northwest of Houston, is inviting and still fairly accurate: 

“The ground is hilly and alternates with forest and natural grass plains.  Various kinds of trees.  Climate like that of Sicily.  The soil needs no fertilizer.  Almost constant east wind.  No winter, almost like March in Germany.  Bees, birds and butterflies the whole winter through.  A cow with a calf costs ten dollars.  Planters who have seven hundred head of cattle are common.” 

My boss and her husband keep a farm and thirty cows on the fringes of Industry. I wasn't reminded of  Sicily though Simon, born in England, contemplates planting olive trees. The grass, for once, is green and the pond is almost full. Technically, the drought remains in place but you no longer raise dust with each step crossing the pasture. We ate lunch and tramped the fields and woods, then toured downtown Industry, including a visit to the first post office built in Texas west of Galveston (1837). It has a dirt floor, stone walls with four gun ports and a roof covered with cedar shingles. Nearby is the Industry Methodist Cemetery, where the dates of graves range from the mid-nineteenth century to earlier this year. Inscribed on the stone of a girl dead in 1905 at the age of fourteen: 

“Sweet child adieu
Thy pain’s all o’er
We’ll soon meet you
to part not more”

In the presence of such unexpected sorrow, more than a century old, in the middle of a pleasant Texas afternoon – sun, blue skies, wind in the tall grass – with family and friends, the old words return: 

“Yet even these bones from insult to protect
 Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
 With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked,
 Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.”

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