Boom!

Daffodils in front of porch at Big Lake, Texas.

Home sweet home? Some of us didn’t work just Monday through Friday in Big Lake, but had real homes there. Daffodils in front of a real porch at a Big Lake home. 1980.

Let’s move from the mountains of Far West Texas to the oil and gas fields.  To a porch at the corner of Eighth Street and North Pennsylvania Avenue in Big Lake—a town peppered with houses that were trucked in, porches included, from closed oil camps where workers had lived during  the last century’s big boom. Unlike those 1920s communities built around the oil fields, this house sits where it was built—in the town of Big Lake.

I haven’t been to Big Lake in more than two years. I haven’t lived there since 1967.   The small town I remember might just exist only in my imagination. From what I read here change has come, brought by a new economic boom. The 1950s were one kind of boom, and I lived there then. The 1920s were another boom about which I’ve heard plenty, and now we have arrived at the first boom of the 21st century.

Small towns? Ask anyone about living in such a place, and you will get as many differing opinions as people you ask. I am a tad defensive, starting with the definition of. When someone says they hail from a small town of 15,000, I cry foul. Fifteen thousand is not small compared to 2,000, which was about the size of Big Lake when I lived there.

Depending on the source, in 1925, Texon, 14 miles west of Big Lake, had a population numbering between 2,000 and 10,000 souls.. Photo from Texon by Jane Spraggins Wilson and .

In 1925, Texon, 14 miles west of Big Lake, had a population numbering between 2,000 and 10,000 souls. Maybe. Sources vary on the actual numbers. Photo from the book, Texon-Legacy of an Oil Town by Jane Spraggins Wilson and James A. Wilson.

Thanks to something called the Wolfcamp/Sprayberry/Cline Shale, the weekday population of Big Lake now numbers nearly 15,000. Did you catch that word ‘weekday’? If the San Angelo Standard Times is correct, those extra 12,000 souls decamp elsewhere on weekends. Most people I knew from Big Lake have decamped permanently to San Angelo or Midland or Odessa, and for that reason I haven’t traveled there in a while. When I do broach the subject of driving to Big Lake for old times’ sake, I am warned about oil field truck traffic. One man told me he counted 500 trucks one afternoon between Midland and Big Lake. That’s a lot of trucks on a two-lane road.  Roadside mesquite trees are tinged gray with dust kicked up by that traffic.

In the early years of this new century, I moved my mother away from our home in Big Lake, and on one of last those trips I made a video. Guiding the steering wheel with my knees, I deliberately turned the handycam here and there pointing at my favorite sites for a recording I’ve yet to view. Every spot I filmed in that small town is powerfully evocative.

Homes of friends. Hard to imagine that you could name the family in every house on every street, but it’s true. Homes of teachers. To entice teachers to come, the school district offered housing. Schools and churches. Untold hours spent in both places. Post Office. Mail picked up from Box 907 twice a day and once on Sunday. Swimming Pool. Site of a senior class party my parents chaperoned that I didn’t bother to show up for.  Ouch. California Street. The 14-year-old me hit a dog there, hours after getting my driver’s license. My father’s 1955 Ford was full of even more 14-year-old girls, spilling out of the windows and laughing when I popped the clutch, only to turn teary and silent seconds later. (We never found the dog.)

Street corners and parking lots  have a story. So do windmills and stock tanks. Too rosy a picture? Probably. I know people had hard times. It is a microcosm after all, with broken families, suicides, alcoholism, segregation, and all other of life’s tragedies, but you’ll forgive me for not dwelling on that right now.

I wonder about the people coming in with the new boom. Will they eventually bring their families and send their kids to school in Big Lake?  Will they join a civic club or run for school board? Will their children get married in the town’s churches and then return to bury their parents at Glen Rest Cemetery? Impossible to say, but I hope they take and make the best of this community, seven days a week.

The Nobel Prize for literature was awarded this week to a writer whose  stories are set in small communities. Alice Munro’s characters are tender and familiar, skirting life’s troubles, learning lessons, and making memories.  Reading her stories is like going home for the weekend and not that different from sitting on the steps at 801 North Pennsylvania Avenue where I’d  often watch a full orange moon rise—the faint odor of natural gas in the air—and wonder who’s dragging Main Street tonight.

Texon in 1980.

The ghost town of Texon today. Still productive, the old Texon field is scarred above ground. Midland’s Sibley Nature Center explains the Texon Scar.

                  What little town by river or sea-shore,

Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,

Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?

And, little town, thy streets for evermore

Will Silent be; and not a soul, to tell

Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

   -From  Ode to a Grecian Urn by John Keats

54 thoughts on “Boom!

  1. Reba Cross Seals

    Vivian, I love, love, love this post about your hometown. Since I lived there during my 8th grade through high school years and graduated from there, I love it too! I am going to share this website with Terry Farley who writes a Reagan County/Big Lake newsletter. This article is great!

  2. Brenda Nunn Scarborough

    It was wonderful to relive memories with you about our teenage years in Big Lake. It seems like yesterday that we were searching for money to get gas to drag Main Street and see what mischief we could find. Wonder if they still drag Main Street???

  3. Suzanne Abbott Reaves

    I loved your stories about Big Lake. I will have to share them with my Mother when she comes to visit for Christmas. We lived in Big Lake, too, when I was a baby. I’ll have to find out exactly when. My Dad worked for Amerada at this time.

    1. Vivian Post author

      Suzanne, please do share with your mom. So many worked for Amerada in the 50s. My best friend (and I had a lot of those) was moved to Artesia by Amerada right before our senior year. Oh! the drama! A lot of my friends’ dads worked for giant oil companies such as Texaco and Phillips and Exxon. Now, I think the main employers are Pioneer and Chesapeake. Maybe Apache and Cimarex, not sure.
      Thanks for reading.

    1. Vivian Post author

      Thanks Pete! A still favorite story is of you standing watch for Mr. Curry while we were all cutting up in Geometry, and he sneaked around outside the door. You didn’t seem him and when you opened the door to see if he was coming…you bonked him on head. Great stuff.
      Thanks for reading.

  4. Lisa Thomas

    Vivian . . . oh my! This blog hits me straight in the heart and mind, paints a picture I never want to look away from and opens a whole new world as I’ve never explored West Texas. Thank you for stirring up a hunger for new experiences.

    Lisa

  5. David Werst

    It was the ‘the best of times and the worst of times….for many of us who grew up there during the time it was even more isolated than it is today. It was small town Texas with unique West Texas influences. Yes, it was Real Texas as real as it gets. Always enjoy my friend Vivian’s writing style and recollections.

  6. Sharon Plagens

    I too loved living in the gas camp @ Midkiff & attending HS in Big Lake! Later to return & teach there for 24 years, raising my daughter, who also graduated from RCHS. Some of my family lived in Texon & I heard many stories of that famous place. The boom had just begun when I decided to retire & move to San Angelo. This piece was wonderfully written & I will always remember the wonderful years I had living in the little West Texas town. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Jimmy Barton

    I came across this article on a friend’s facebook page and was immediately intrigued and fascinated!! Although your narration is well before my time, having lived here since 1975, I realized that growing up in Big Lake was much the same for the 1960’s, 70’s, & 80’s! The design of the cars may have changed, the names of businesses come and gone, but the memories and activities sound as if they were multi-generational and omnipresent to the youths of each decade.

    It saddens me yet excites me that my son will not know the small town bondage that we grew up with. Todays society forbids other parents patrolling and disciplining children that are not their own as was done when we grew up! In our young years, you didn’t get caught messing up or you caught it from whomever caught you BEFORE you caught it from your parents after they were told; and trust me THEY WERE TOLD!! The current “Boom” is bittersweet!! The employment and success that many are seeing is great, but the once sleepy little town that many of us have grown accustomed to has exploded with strangers more prevalent than acquaintances. The town is noisy with traffic with accidents and deaths occurring at an alarming rate. Our once sleepy town, where everyone knew everyone’s business (factual or fictional) is ablaze with life!!!

    Thank you for the article! Definitely a Currier & Ives painting through words!!

    1. Vivian Post author

      JImmy, loved hearing from you. Bittersweet is a good description, I’m sure. I do have the luxury of viewing through the rosy lens, but I hope folks can somehow fashion their own in years to come. What a world, right?
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  8. Robby Hooker

    Your article brought back many memories of our beloved hometown. Here are a few that I remember well.

    1. Watching the high school football game, I was about 7 or 8 at the time, on top of the Methodist church with my Dad and Hal Joyce until it was free to get in at half time. After we got in I played football beside the field with the rest of the kids until the game was over.
    2. It being so hot the tar would bubble on the streets in the summer and when cars drove by you would here the snapping sound of those bubbles popping.
    3. Driving to San Angelo in the floor board of dads oilfield company truck with Mom, Dad, Hal and Vicky Joyce.
    4. Trying to catch a glimpse of the drive in Theater screen while we were leaving San Angelo at night to see what was showing.
    5. The community took care of itself and the people. We supported, shared, nurtured, loved, consoled and were personally vested in each others lives and wellbeing. Yes everyone was personally vested in everyone’s business also.
    6. The procurement of all district rivals green population or welcoming signs for the homecoming bomb fire and the cheering of the crowd when each was held up and thrown in the fire.
    7. The protecting of the bomb fire over night and our own green sign.
    8. Pasture parties
    9. Quarter mile races on the straight away road that lead to the Rocker B.
    10. Beer from the ice chests left in the back of oilfield trucks.
    There are so many more but I have a Dr. appointment that I must go to so yall take care.

  9. Jo McReavy Theriot

    Erica Romero posted this on Big Lake Brats so you can imagine the fun and surprise I had finding it was your writing. I lived on 8th and Maryland, now which street was Pennsylvania, do I recognize that house in the picture?

    You really covered it. I do agree with a comment that we had time to grow and know who we were in a simpler time.

    Thank you for preserving our heritage.

    Jo

  10. Kim Page

    I was in BigLake over July 4 this year. It’s CRAZY!!! It’s not the little town we grew up in – that’s for sure. Loved reading this – it brought back lots of memories!

  11. Dana Johnson Cowen

    I lived on a ranch between Midkiff and Big Lake! Graduated in 1974, from RCHS. You’ve brought so many memories to mind with ya story! I now live in Ozona another west Texas town southeast of Bihar Lake also changed by the oil field. Touches our life’s fast and furious then gone before ya realize. Thanks for your story, I loved it!

  12. Vikki Winchester Cox

    I loved this article! I remember that front porch well and the visits we had with whomever was coming down Penn Ave and stopped! Mom and Dad moved from Big Lake in 2008 when their health started declining and we took Dad to Glen Rest in 2012. Mom lives with me now and unfortunately has early dementia. I was last in Big Lake a few months ago and it is so very different from the little town we grew up in! If someone tried to drag Main now, it would be more like a drag race track–gone is the slow pace of rolling down windows and talking with friends or playing “Chinese red light” at our then one red light in town! Thanks for bringing back the great memories.

      1. Vikki Winchester Cox

        Kim, I will. She still misses Big Lake, but so many of her friends are gone–either moved or passed away, but we do go back occasionally for her to visit ones who are still there. I loved being in your dad’s classroom–he was always so nice and patient with us. There’s not many like him anymore.

  13. Debbie Ragland Twardy

    Thanks for the memories Vivian. Sometimes I wish we could all go back to the simplicity that was Big Lake in the ’60s

  14. Vicki (Ragland) Partin

    I guess it’s because of the years that have passed, but I’ve thought a lot lately about those growing up years in Big Lake. I always tell people it was a wonderful place to grow up- we were stinkers but, oh the memories we created and life lessons we learned. I wouldn’t trade those years for anywhere, anytime, else. Vivian, thanks for putting those memories in words I wish I could write!

  15. Kevin Weatherby

    It is not the measure of a community in how it was or how it is, but rather in who it has sent out.

    Some of the greatest people I know may not live there anymore (although some still do), but the values they learned there now live all across this great country and we aspire to pass them along.

    Thank you Big Lake for my raising…the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  16. Bill Poage Farr

    Vivian, Brings back many memories of great times with old friends. I distinctly remember hitting the dog in your Dad’s car!

    1. Vivian Post author

      Bill, I dragged Daddy back up there, and we looked and looked, but no dog. Or maybe someone decided just to not make me feel worse than I already did. We need to have a reunion!

  17. Holly McReavy Longenbach

    Thank you for writing this. It brought back many memories of growing up next door to your parents that I had long forgotten. I so wish my two little ones could have the pleasure of meeting them.

  18. Terri Taylor

    Vivian,
    You’ve certainly touched hearts and revived memories with your vivid recall of Big Lake. (Makes me feel deprived—having grown up in big ol’ San Antonio.) I can just imagine you sitting on those porch steps. A beautiful snapshot of your formative years and a tight-knit community.

  19. Vicki Brown

    Vivian,
    A friend sent me the link to your blog, knowing I would love your recollections of growing up in a small town. I now live in Midland, but my early years were spent in a small town in the Texas panhandle. This blog brought me right back to 810 Roosevelt in Skellytown (although when I lived there, there were no street signs or house numbers at all!) Thank you for so beautifully sharing your memories – they reminded me of the treasure those years were for me, in my small town, as well.

  20. Jim McCoy

    Vivian! I DO know something about your 801 Pennsylvania: WE (my mom, dad and I) lived in that house from the time it was built in the early 1950s until sometime after 1960 when my grandad E. Price Miller died and we moved to the ranch. I have a picture of my dad (Lucian McCoy) sitting on those porch steps… but it was a little different then: no porch railing, just hedges (that I jumped over and knocked my wind out once. HA!). And the window on the far right wasn’t there…. that was our garage! You all converted it to a room after you bought it from us.

    I remember walking a block down Penn. to the First Grade cottages, where your mom taught (altho’ I was in Mrs. Colvin’s class, Mrs. Nunn’s room in between). I was just a little kid and was always getting in trouble because of my good neighbors: Dan Edwards in the house catty-corner from us that the Winchesters bought later (Mark was just a baby), Kent Schaible across 8th street from us, John and David Werst on the other end of the block, and Tommy Hayes catty-corner from them (9th St.) They were all older than me and I was their “flunky”.

    Vivian, before you moved to 801 Penn., didn’t you all live at the West Texas Utilities houses on South Depot (now Main)? I seem to remember the Iveys and the Joyces living there too? (All WTU employees) My dad went dove hunting many times with Clarence, Ray, and Jack.

  21. Judy Noble Williams

    Your writing is sooo good! You just started me thinking about all the fun times you, Alicia, Vicki, and I had. I remember Tina leaving too. I came to Big Lake the summer before my sophomore year. I had lived in a small town in central Texas, Taylor; but it was nothing like Big Lake. A lot of water has run under that bridge since we were there

    Great remembering.

    Judy

  22. Carol Beavers

    I really enjoyed reading your memories of Big Lake as we remember it as kids. It really has changed with the big Boom! Johnny & I still live just down the street from where you were raised (607 Pennsylvania)! I guess we haven’t
    “gone far” in life! But, thank goodness we have gotten a little smarter (I think???) Keep up the good work!

  23. Glenn Dixon

    Vivian,

    Reading through your article and these comments has been *such* a trip down memory lane! And I got to the very end before I was able to place who you were….

    We moved there in 1965 and left in 1973. Unlike most, we weren’t involved in the oil industry. My dad pastored the First Baptist Church. We lived at 804 Maryland, just around the corner from you, evidently. I was in your mom’s class in first grade!

    In 1973 we moved from the flat, quiet West Texas oil fields to the ‘big city’ of Lake Worth, where the schools and church were in the flight path of Carswell Air Force Base. Quite a jump from summer cicadas to B52’s roaring overhead at all hours.

    I love your writing and your evocative memories. Please tell your mother hello from me and my family!

    1. Vivian Post author

      Thanks Glenn, I do remember your family well. Unfortunately, Mother died in June 2012. I do love to write about small town West Texas. I understand there have been a lot of changes. Thanks for reading. Have a great summer.

  24. Glenn Dixon

    Vivian, I’m very sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. I just finished reading your posts about the visit to Marfa and the Giant movie set. I’m so glad to get a glimpse of her outside of my memories of sitting around a small table and reading in her classroom. I’m going to send my parents the link to your site as I’m sure they will enjoy your writing as much as I have.

  25. Margarita Cast

    I’ve driven through Big Lake and many other small towns in Texas. I always have wondered what it was like to live in such small, isolated communities. Your article was interesting in reminiscing a sweet innocent time of times gone by. And it brought home the reality of the oil business. It can be a real boon or bust. Having a son that works in an oil services company has me worried as it does so many people who are affected by the nature of the business.

  26. Walter Horton

    Very nice article, and I remember it well, since my Mother and Dad were school teachers in Big Lake from the Mid 40’s to the 80’s when my Dad finally retired as High School Principal, so I lived there all my life, well until I graduated from college. Both of my parents were laid to rest in Glen Rest.
    Big Lake has changed in many ways, but I still make a trip out there each year to visit friends and hunt deer and every year there are more houses, new roads, and new business. I still talk with some of my High School friend from Big Lake all the time. When you grow up in a small town like Big Lake you tend to stay in contact with your close friends. I graduated from High School in 1965 and will always remember the good time draging main street, parties at the Slab, and parking out in a pasture where no one could find you on dates with your girl friend. What memories.
    Great article,
    Walter Horton

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