Authenticity. We hear the word a lot lately. People, emerging from the isolation and confusion of the last fourteen months of virtual meetings and social interactions, seem to be out looking for real experiences. Authentic experiences.
What does that mean?
A series of damaging storms, like we’ve been having lately, would certainly qualify as real. No one questions the authenticity of a major weather event when the wind and rain are buffeting their residence.
Authenticity, however, is something more than merely real. It’s a quality of character. Places can have it. People can have it. But both only in relation to something else, maybe their own past.
I’m thinking about what makes an authentic Round Top experience.
A friend once walked into a café on the Square where all the customers sitting around were talking in German—and they switched to English because they recognized my friend and her husband as Houstonians. Fifty-some years ago that was authentic Round Top.
Shopping at Mercantile today is authentically Round Top, and so is attending a concert at Festival Hill or a performance by the Black Cat Choir.
Does it take time for authenticity to develop?
Or does it have more to do with inborn qualities? For instance, is it actually the absence of pretense?
I have a long and mixed relationship with pretense. I grew up in a city, in a striver’s social world where a surprising number of people hewed to the principle of “fake it till you make it.” By the time I came along, the ones who succeeded in previous generations formed a solid phalanx against the newcomers. In one more generation, who could tell the difference?
Where in the social trajectory did pretense stop and authenticity begin?
So here we are in Round Top and Winedale, where Houstonians Hazel Ledbetter, Ima Hogg and Faith Bybee changed things. They had a vision of authenticity that involved importing and/or restoring nineteenth century buildings. Was what resulted authentic anything? Authentically altered, perhaps.
Yet what they left behind formed the identity of the Round Top area for decades—at least with outsiders. And outsiders came, drawn by this imagined authenticity and its visual appeal.
They’re still coming. More dilapidated old houses are being brought in for renovation into appealing commercial property--more shops, restaurants and hotels geared toward visitors.
Do we have any alternative? We said goodbye fifty years ago to the—yes—authenticity that would allow a protective historic designation like Fayetteville’s.
So here we are, a work-in-progress.
Maybe that just makes us Texan. Not in the way of advertising—cowboy hats and ostrich boots. We’re more likely to wear work boots and baseball caps. But Texan by the fact that we are adjusting to constant change and finding what is most enduring within it.
Round Top remains a place where, as Leon Hale described in the Houston Post, mockingbirds mimic scissortails from the tops of trees on the Square. That was in 1980, but the Square, itself, still has the trees; still has a public restroom like it did then, plus the tables and benches needed to enjoy the respite they provide. The names on the shops have changed, but the early buildings are still present.
The Square is maintained by the DYD Club, whose guiding force is the little girl, now nearly my age, whose family owned the building Hazel Ledbetter bought in the 1960’s. Once it was Schwarz’s. You will know it as Lulu’s. DYD means Do Your Duty. It relies on the support of volunteers, folks. And maybe that’s the most authentically Round Top thing of all.