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Texas USA

Marvelous Memphis

Can small-town charm extend your life expectancy?

These days, big-city hustle and bustle wears me down. For a state known for its rural areas, Texas has a lot of big cities, many of which have swollen in recent years, leaving the smaller, farther-out areas to shrink.

It’s an old Texas theme, but what these smaller, rural places lose in sheer numbers, they often retain in charm.

A few months back, I visited Memphis, Texas, on a lark. As I drove northwest on U.S. Highway 287, my radio dial landed on KLSR-FM 105.3 out of Memphis, and I listened to Ella Fitzgerald, Bryan Ferry, Dean Martin and Pat Benatar as I passed miles of unfenced, red-dirt farmland and intermittent, snowy drifts of cotton harvest remnants. I resolved to stop in the town.

In the cyclical, expand-and-contract life of rural Texas communities, Memphis is contracting. Even so, the red brick streets give the town a graceful authenticity, and I found several shops open downtown. As I circled the town square, I spied a sign that said, “Home of the Cyclones.” This name for the Memphis High School mascot made me grin, and I decided to find a “Cyclones” T-shirt for my daughter.

My quest took me to a Thriftway grocery, and I stopped to see if any shirts were available. I parked and noticed that the step-side pickup next to my vehicle was still running, but no one sat inside.

I went in and asked a cashier if they had any Memphis Cyclones T-shirts, and she said she didn’t think so but that I should ask Randy, the manager. Randy said they were out of Cyclones T-shirts for the moment, but that he might have an extra Cyclones hat. He found one and offered it to me at no charge because it was from a couple of seasons back. His friendliness was refreshing.

I thanked Randy for the offer but explained that the T-shirt was for my daughter. He recommended I try Dollar General. I then mentioned the unattended truck idling outside, and Randy said that it was Mister So-and-So’s and that he always leaves his truck running when he comes in. You couldn’t leave your car unlocked—much less unattended and running—in many of the places I’d lived in Texas. I shook my head in mild disbelief.

At the Dollar General, I scooped up a Memphis Cyclones T-shirt along with a brochure map and headed to lunch. I ate at a café called the Rock Inn. I drank a tall glass of iced tea, ate a good burger and chatted with the owner, Debbie. I told her about the idling truck at the Thriftway and my visit with the store manager. “The people are the best thing about this place,” she smiled. “This town is full of great folks.”

After lunch, I headed back downtown. Because there were no vehicles behind me, I paused at a side street stop sign to peruse the town map. I studied it for a couple of minutes and decided I knew the lay of the land. When I looked up, there was a truck in my rearview mirror that I hadn’t seen. The driver must have been waiting for two minutes. I waved and drove on, mildly perplexed. If I had held up traffic like that at a stop sign in a metroplex, my ears would still be ringing from the honking.

Nearby, I saw KLSR 105.3 and parked. The front door was unlocked, so I went in and found myself in the middle of a live broadcast. A disc jockey named Donna lifted her headphones and said hello. She was between breaks, so I told her how much I had enjoyed the station. She said it was the only 100,000-watt radio station around, and she liked to mix things up on Saturdays. Before the next tune commenced, she asked my name and took me on-air live. She announced that I was a visitor in Memphis and advised listeners to make me feel welcome. “We love visitors,” she said.

As the next song played, Donna told me that she and her husband had bought the station 30 years ago and remained. I asked her what she liked most about Memphis. “The people,” she said.

I spent the day exploring the town, chatting with the Memphis Public Library director, Jacquelyn (who recommended a visit to the spacious city park), and a chamber of commerce representative named Joella at a local apparel store. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, and hospitality abounded. It’s easy to forget that quiet and friendly towns like Memphis still exist, with thoughtful folks and a much healthier pace than the urban rush. I might live 10 years longer if I move to Memphis.

E.R. Bills is a writer from Aledo.