U.S. Highway 79 is labelled a north-south route, but cuts more of a northeast-southwest diagonal through the state of Texas. The section between Round Rock, about 20 miles north of Austin, and the Louisiana border is intertwined with two major country music tragedies. Johnny Horton (“Battle of New Orleans,” “Sink the Bismarck” and “North to Alaska”) was killed by a drunk driver on that road near Milano in 1960, and the Jim Reeves Memorial is on the same route near Carthage, Texas.
My friend, Annette, and I were unaware of the highway's musical significance when we decided to take the backroads part of the way home from Texas last month. We just wanted to see something besides boring interstate scenery. Our decision resulted in a series of serendipitous experiences we would have missed had we chosen the interstate.
|Jim Reeves Memorial|
It was the second day of our three-day return trip from Bourne (rhymes with journey),where we had been to the George Strait Team Penning Classic. A few miles from Buffalo, I saw a sign that encouraged us to visit “Historic Palestine.” Open to adventure, we stopped at the town’s visitors center. We spent a pleasant half hour winding through the streets of this old railroad town, looking at the magnificent architecture of the 1800s. We “oohed” and “ahhed" at the old homes from that era, some well tended to and others abandoned and falling in, most painted in pastel pink, green or yellow. We stopped by an old hospital building, picturing in our minds the lives of the nurses who had lived in the small cottage attached to it.
Then we went downtown and perused an antique shop. One side of the shop was the Magnolia Cafe, where we had chicken-salad-stuffed avocado halves and saltine crackers that we thought were dipped in olive oil and herbs. We found out after our internet research that they were called Ranch Crackers and were made with a packaged ranch dressing mix and vegetable oil, then baked. For dessert, I had an amazing Sopapilla Cheese Cake that was to die for.
After lunch, we hadn't been back on U.S. 79 but a few minutes when Annette blurted out, "Jim Reeves Memorial.”
"What?" sez I.
"That sign said ‘Jim Reeves Memorial,’" she replied.
My brakes screeched, I made a U-turn, and went back to see whether it was the same Jim Reeves I remembered. Sure enough, right out in the middle of nowhere was this little park with a full-size statue of the late country singer known as Gentleman Jim.
His memorial is in a one-acre, tree-covered plot of ground three miles east of Carthage, where he used to live. He was born in nearby Galloway, and died at the controls of his Beechcraft Debonair in a rainstorm near Brentwood, Tennessee, on July 31, 1964. The stone walkway leading to the statue had the outline of a guitar, and a memorial plaque gave some brief points about the man's life and death. I didn’t know until I was doing some internet research about the memorial that Reeves is buried beneath that statue, along with his favorite dog, Cheyenne, who died three years after his master.
We took several photos, then hit the road again. A few miles from the Louisiana border, we stumbled across a chain-saw artist and stopped to look at his wares. I bought a wooden cactus with a skull at the base, which looks great on my front porch. I’m still looking for a wooden Indian for the other side of the door.
Annette and I are talking about doing a Route 66 road trip next year, following the famous roadway from its start near Chicago to its end in California. If that trip is anything like our Texas foray, we’ll have to rent a paneled van or U-Haul truck to carry back all the stuff we buy.