In late August I took off on a road trip, alone, across Texas. People kept telling me it was a brave thing to do. Maybe it was. But it was a necessary thing.
I may have been running away. From paperwork, new responsibilities, old tasks that never got done during my husband’s illness, and before.
But it felt like running toward.
I was following in the tracks of my husband, Leon Hale, visiting the little towns where he grew up nearly a century ago. Towns like Stephenville, Hamlin, Gordon, Glen Rose and Eastland, among others. All of them are scattered not far from I-20 between Abilene and Fort Worth.
After some sleuthing, I found places I recognized from his writing. The barn where Hale’s cousin C.T. dropped an overripe cantaloupe on the head of an adult relative and Leon got blamed. The tank where Leon felt the sins of the saved nibbling at his toes. A cousin of his showed me Grandma Hale’s house where the family sheltered during the Great Depression when there was no place else to go.
Almost everyone he wrote about and knew find shelter now in the area’s graveyards, so my visit had to be largely an act of the imagination.
Even a few hours with one of Hale’s old girlfriends, from the time before he knew me, blended imagination with memory. Solid detail is hard to come by after forty-plus years.
What was I trying to accomplish?
When the beloved dies, the spouse can be left almost dizzy with the changed perspective that results. I’ve mentioned before that death alters the lens through which we view ourselves. I wept for the first few months over all my oversights and omissions, rendered suddenly and horribly visible to me.
As the realization arrived that none of those could be changed, I began to wonder who this dear man had been before I knew him. Hale had a whole life, and then some, before he met me at the age of sixty.
He wrote about it in several books, as well as in the column, but the boy and man depicted in those writings are seen through his own eyes.
I wanted to view him through the eyes of other people who had loved him.
I suspect that forming a true picture of someone from the recollections of friends is difficult, even when most of the people you need to talk to are alive, as his closest friends are not.
Also, there’s a danger in the process. Truth is the enemy of fantasy. Don’t most of us, happily married, find our happiness in a recipe that mixes reality, acceptance, and compromise with large quantities of love?
My happiness came from being near him every day and the mutual surprise of living together—his fresh observations, often funny, always interesting. He made sure I was happy by never saying or doing anything that upset me. Imagine that. If he could see it would hurt my feelings, he didn’t say or do it. It is the Hale Way, written about in his memoir, Paper Hero.
I never realized he was employing it with me, although I largely responded in kind.
Now I wonder what else I might have missed about him in this happy, easy way of living.
I think that’s why I hit the road this summer, and why I hope to do more of it over the next few months.
Maybe I’m looking for perspective, and peace. Or maybe I’m just hoping to keep the connection with him alive, as long as possible.
(Published on Friday, September 24, 2021 in the Fayette County Record)