Before returning to the Valley to semi-retire, my husband, children and I lived in a small community in South Texas not unlike the small communities clustered in Saguache County. As I have done for Valley Publishing for over 15 years, I wrote for a local newspaper there covering those communities and learning about Texas culture and history.
We lived on acreage in Stockdale, Texas surrounded by an oak tree forest and peanut fields. We picked wild blackberries to make jelly, ghost peppers down by the creek and attended the annual watermelon and peanut festivals. We all became addicted to sweet tea, Tex-Mex and barbecue and accompanied the kids to the local country western dance halls.
Fond memories of Texas include our daughter’s many colorful boyfriends, our son’s graduation from Texas State Technical College, the births of our grandchildren, my husband’s retirement from a Coors’ subsidiary there and our bittersweet departure for Colorado, where both our birth families had lived for decades.
Two of our children, nine of our grandchildren and a great-grandchild still live near that same community. So on Sunday morning, when news broke about the latest massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, there was a moment of panic. Did any of the grandkids go to church with their friends there? Were we sure our friends in LaVernia were not members of that congregation? Did we know anyone there?
Sutherland Springs is a tiny community between LaVernia and Stockdale about the size of Saguache, but without the downtown business district. Rich in history, I had written stories about the local cemetery and the old hotel there, a booming business when the hot springs were in vogue. Watching the tragedy unfold, I stared at the familiar FM 539 sign on the TV screen, which I had passed so many times in my travels to collect stories for the paper.
During the press conference, held in Stockdale, I was amazed to see that Joe Delbert Tackitt was still the Sheriff of Wilson County. A man of few words, he implored the press not to ask why there, why Sutherland Springs, simply stating It could happen anywhere, to anyone. I am sure representatives from the Wilson County News, where I once worked, attended that news conference and recorded his words.
The communities in Wilson County are tightly knit, much as they are here. Any local squabbles are quickly set aside to help any members in the community in an emergency situation or those just needing moral support to get through tough times. Neighbors helping neighbors is what Texans are all about, but when so many neighbors are missing it is a hole that will take years to fill, if indeed that hole can be filled at all.
My heart goes out to all my former neighbors and readers in the Wilson County community. Our prayers are with you, may those injured in the shooting make a full recovery and may God speed your healing from this terrible tragedy.