Breton Hill, Texas
Drive around the court house that sits smack dab in the middle of the town square, looking like a tiered wedding cake, made of red brick with golden limestone trim. Imagine the time when horse and buggies were parked on the dusty streets, when the stores around the square were bustling with men in overalls buying feed and women in long Victorian dresses gossiping in the general store. It’s not hard to do in this little town that time seems to have left behind.
Get out of your car and explore. Stop in at the Two Moons Tea Room and have a cucumber sandwich and tomato basil soup with the mayor’s wife or Maribel, the queen of the senior center. Or maybe Jack’s Place would suit you better. Have a hamburger, dripping greasy goodness onto an oilcloth tablecloth and wash it down with a cold Dr. Pepper. If you eavesdrop,
Scattered across the Texas landscape from the Rio Grande Valley to the Panhandle and from the deep East Texas piney woods to the deserts and canyons of West Texas are small towns. They lie off the main highways, between bustling cities, and harken back to a slower time. They are where many of us dream of living, and I’m lucky enough to live in the fictional town of Breton Hill.
Would you like to visit my fictional town? Well, then leave behind the big city of Houston with its pancake-flat land and drive northwest on Highway 290. Turn east before you get to Austin’s rocky Hill Country landscape. Replace your view of shopping centers and chain restaurants with round bales in fields and grazing cattle on gently rolling hills. You may get behind a slow-moving pick-up truck pulling a horse trailer, but don’t be impatient. Enjoy the bluebonnets and wild flowers that line the highway while you get into a small-town Texas mood. Watch for the sign to turn onto a Farm to Market road that will lead you right into Breton Hill.
you will hear a play-by-play recap of last Friday night's football game given by an oilman in ironed jeans and pearl snap shirt having lunch with Chase Carter, the local contractor, his Tractor Supply gimme caps turned backwards. He and Carrie, his new wife, never miss a game because his daughter, Emma made it onto the cheerleading squad this year. She will be one of the first “library nerds” to break the “popular girl” mold and be selected for the squad, and many others like her will follow.
Maybe you had rather go to the Smoky Shack, housed in the old waterworks building, for a chopped barbeque sandwich topped with mouth puckering dill pickles. Harold is a regular there, when Maribel will drive him. Harold has crusty opinions on most subjects and he will be more than happy to share them with you.
The buildings in downtown Breton Hill may have been sympathetically renovated, but they are still solid, interesting and have weathered many storms. They remain a nucleus from which the town has grown and modernized. The residents of Breton Hill are much the same as the buildings – strong, resilient and tied by blood and shared experiences.
There are several groups of residents. There are the BIBH’s (born in Breton Hill). The elite of this group can trace their ancestors to The Old Three Hundred settlers who came shortly after Texas Independence. Our county was declared as the Birth Place of Texas, and the BIBH’s are proud of their heritage.
Ranchers and farmers are broken into two groups – those who have lived on the land all their lives as have their ancestors, and those who recently moved from big cities onto ranches for the “ag exceptions” – all hat and no cattle as Chase Carter calls them.
“Newbies” move here to enjoy the slower pace and, although often vetted by the BIBH’s, they are accepted and appreciated for the vibrancy they bring—a new breath of air that rescues the town from becoming a stale, sleepy burg.
People in Breton Hill are like most small-town folk and will talk to you while you stand in line to pay for your purchase. You may be surprised to find you have exchanged contact numbers before you check-out.
When you see men standing at attention on the street with their hats removed, you will know that a funeral procession is passing. You can be sure that their wives have already used the key under the deceased family’s doormat to open the door and bring casseroles and sweet tea for mourners.
These same men will remove their cowboy hats to say grace, and put them back on to eat. They’ll umpire their children’s ball games, help tow your car out of a bar-ditch, and be ready with huge smokers to prepare barbeque for any school function or fundraiser. Their wives will run the concession stands with military precision, or direct the local theatre production like it was opening on Broadway.
Back in the car, turn off the square and travel down the pecan tree lined streets. Victorian houses with their multi-colored, gingerbread trim sit back from the streets like formally dressed matrons. My house, however, is the solid craftsman. With its handcrafted trim and solid oak doors, it is just as beautiful as the fussy Victorians.
Most houses have friendly wrap around porches, complete with porch swings, that bring Mayberry to mind. Porches are the perfect place to have a good look at the neighbors comings and goings, and an even better place to share that information with neighbors who might have missed an important event – like young Emma sitting in Jimmy John’s car in the driveway a little too long after school.
You’ll find a church in every neighborhood. Built of white shiplap with tall steeples or solid brick with stained glass windows, they are the town hubs. If you’re lucky, you’ll be invited to a covered dish dinner after the service. Don’t tell, but I tried each denomination because they all have their famous cooks. Edith Jacobs at the Baptist church is known for her chess pie; Francis Schroeder at the Lutheran church makes Schnitzel to die for; it is a toss-up at the Methodist church between Jennifer Polk’s Coca-Cola cake and Emma Earthman’s layered salad; at the Catholic church you can’t beat Gianna Roberts’ lasagna. If you stay long enough, maybe you’ll visit them all as well.
When you leave to go back to the big city, you’ll find a subtle change has happened within you. The tension in your shoulders will have eased, and they will have dropped from around your ears back where they belong. You may walk a little slower and take in sights that you have rushed by in the past. You may dream of your trip to small town Texas, and when you decide that Breton Hill is just the place you have been looking for, look me up. I’ll introduce you to everyone you need to know here. The residents, stalwart and friendly folks and nosey and jealous ones, are waiting to meet you in my book, Staged for Success.