Friday, July 7, 2017

Wabi-Sabi on the Square


Growing old in greater Round Top means watching the place you knew for many years become the other place you knew well as a child. Houston in the Fifties, that is. Endless possibility measured in what money can buy. A yearning eagerness to see land scraped clean and flat.

A person I know nodded sadly today at the remark that Round Top has become a shopping mall. At Rummel Square, several frame buildings of questionable architectural interest crowd a truly distinguished old tree and nearby early Texas stone fort. Will the tree survive? Will it flourish? Will we be so grateful for what the repurposed, repainted buildings have to sell that we won’t care?

On a more personal level, growing old means other things. The twinges you complained about at forty-five—a knuckle here or there—have moved into full time assault. At the HEB in Brenham lately (bigger than the one in LaGrange), old people ache along the aisles with their supportive carts; heavy people drag the misery of swollen joints all the way from produce to dairy, the length of football fields. Sure there are mechanized carts, but the popping up and down required to reach the products needs working hips and knees. If yours were working well, you wouldn’t need the cart.

Bigger in retail has meant better profits for big corporations. It’s been going on for thirty or more years, and hitting a peak, now, just as our baby boom bulge begins to grow old, and suffer.

That’s why small shops with adjacent parking seem so appealing. We increasingly look to Round Top Mercantile for a host of foods and equipment that once we might have expected to find only in a larger town’s superstores.

So the dilemma facing the town fathers of all our towns, is how to manage the growth and yet retain the neighborly connection, the friendliness and mutual support that makes us happy to be here.

What’s occurring in Round Top has happened in other places, of course. Tourists come in search of the ineffable, the undefinable. Soul, perhaps. What our cities have lost and we retain in our smaller scale, our charming galleries and stores and caf├ęs. Our town squares with big old trees and picnic tables. Our rolling fields of grasses and cattle and farmhouses, new or reclaimed.

So maybe our city fathers, the powers that be, should not be too quick to throw out the architectural review committees; not too quick to approve buildings with ceiling heights appropriate to an airplane hanger. That’s not what brings the dollars to our little towns.

Floating as we do today on a tide of cheap imports or virtual luxuries we will never be able to afford, we look to the handmade goods, the personal touch and feel of small things, objects that speak of what the Japanese call wabi-sabi—the beauty of imperfection, asymmetry, impermanence.

The characteristics that resemble all of us, getting older, and maybe at last old enough to understand what is missing from this new, frantic, consumer-centric world.