“Damn dam,” Mom would say every time someone mentioned the Whitney Dam.
Mom was my grandmother. Back in the 1950s, the dam had flooded her homeland, an area on the Brazos River where the Towash community lived. When the U.S. Corps of Engineers built the dam, her parents’ home got loaded onto a truck and moved into town. Graves got dug up. Graves got moved. Water covered her father’s general store. Water covered the Towash Baptist Church. Its members built a new building on higher ground.
Maybe that’s how Mom got disillusioned with the government. Maybe disillusionment with the government is why she didn’t claim a political party. “I vote for the man,” she told me in 1992, before she cast her ballot for Ross Perot.
Mom got disillusioned with church, too.
“What religion are you?” I asked when I was little.
“We used to be Baptist but now we’re not anything,” she said. “We go by the Bible.”
After Towash Baptist experienced a split, Mom and Pop attended a new little Baptist church in town. The pastor there married their daughter. Then he resigned. Then he left the denomination. Then he took their daughter and their grandchildren (myself included) away to Tennessee.
Mom and Pop stopped going to church. But they didn’t stop reading the Bible. My grandfather kept a Scofield King James Version on the coffee table beside his ladderback chair in the living room, in front of the television. On our visits from Tennessee, I noticed that when Pop wasn’t watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news or watching the folded arms of Tom Landry coaching the Dallas Cowboys, he was poised upright with his reading glasses on and that Bible in his lap.
He was sitting in the ladderback chair when he suffered a heart attack in 1986.
“Time is filled with swift transition, naught of earth unmoved can stand. Build your hopes on things eternal. Hold to God’s unchanging hand.” That was Mom’s favorite hymn. She knew you couldn’t put your trust in people or places or institutions.
After Pop died, my grandmother reclaimed her old seat in the Towash Baptist Church. When I was in college, I went for a visit, and Mom took me to worship with her. She pointed out the railing between the pulpit area and the pews. I’m not a Baptist, but I’m assuming the rail is where Baptist folks stop to pray when they respond to an altar call. I’m guessing they kneel near the railing when they are giving their lives to Jesus. “This rail was in the original church,” Mom said. “They took it out before everything got flooded.”
“Flooded because of the damn dam?” I asked.
“That’s right,” she said. “Flooded because of the damn dam. Some things survived.”
April Pickle lives under a green roof with her husband, four children, and two dogs. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and teaches journalism and literature at a university-model high school. One cold day, when April was in the fourth grade, she closed the car door on her winter coat and, unbeknownst to her or her father, prevented the door from latching all the way. Half a mile down the road, her daddy turned a corner, the door flew open, and she fell out. Thanks to the thickness of the coat, she was unharmed.