Why do I even bother?

Overton Theater, 1953

I want a dynasty, in Shangri-La…  not only do I have great expectations for myself (and my descendants) but I hope for a “rising tide” that lifts all ships. In short, I want to see Overton flourish.

Of course, by “Overton” I mean the delta of Oil Belt communities in western Rusk County between Highways 42, 64, and 135. When I refer to “Overton” I am almost certainly including the scattered communities of Arp, New London, et al — it’s just easier and quicker to refer to it as “Overton” because, well, I live in Overton. Also, I believe Overton sets the tone for the rest. As the most populous community in this part of the county — and the only municipality of the bunch that generates city sales tax revenue — if Overton flourishes, the rest will as well. But I digress…

Overton/Davis Theater, 2012

Why Overton? I mean, what’s so great about Overton? Why not somewhere else? Why not a bigger town like Henderson, regional suburban hubs like Tyler/Longview, or major cities like Austin, Dallas, or Houston?

Those are all fine communities, with plenty of wherewithal to succeed. But, for me, Overton possesses some of the best things possible about life in The West — without the many ensnarements of the larger towns and major cities. Here we could have our cake and eat it too, so to speak.

But I also choose Overton because this is where I grew up. I have a history here. I know this place and the people well — warts and all. I’m certainly not a pie-eyed idealist (I know its shortcomings). Neither am I a world-weary cynic (I know its potential).

Some people look at the perpetually bumpy roads, the crumbling downtown infrastructure, the unceasing water drama and just throw their hands up. I look at this rough-hewn stone and see what a masterpiece that can be sculpted!

So, what do we need? Another oil boom? Some multinational corporation to build a factory inside the city limits? A generous donation of lucrative mineral rights by some kindly widow? A mythical oil refinery to sprout up and provide hundreds of well-paying long-term jobs? For county music superstar Blake Shelton to suddenly open up a western wear boutique downtown? Hey, all of those would be great… but I’m not counting on any of them to occur any time soon.

Who can help us? Someone needs to fix the problems our city faces. Someone needs to pump some life into our local economy. Someone needs to come up with a vision of our future, and then orchestrate that plan through to fruition. Someone that looks a lot like you and me.

That’s right. I don’t think we need to look anywhere other than right here to find the things we need. We don’t need Walmart to set up a distribution center out on Farm-to-Market 850. Rather, we need to be getting more bang for our local buck right here. We don’t need to fabricate some glaring attraction to cajole outsiders in, we need to capture the imaginations of the people who already live here and provide a justification for their children to carry on the legacy.

Overton skateboarder leaps off sidewalk, 2010

I think of so many of my peers who’ve moved on to other communities. I really don’t blame them. It’s not always easy to live here. With the oilfield ebb and flow, so many have pursued lucrative careers elsewhere. So many of the bright lights with whom I matriculated have taken the seeds of their talents where the ground is more fertile — finding Overton too hard a row to hoe.

Housing is one reason. I know we’ve got a lot of excellent properties for sale, but a lot of younger families prefer to rent for a few years until they build some credit and/or equity. I’m one of them. I can’t tell you how many young couples I know who have expressed the desire to live in Overton but were unable to find a suitable rent house. What did they do? They went elsewhere. How do we fix this?

Do you feel a twinge of pain when you turn onto East Henderson Street from South Commerce and look at all the boarded-up storefronts? Do you bristle when some smart-alecky out-of-towner makes the one-millionth joke about the best way to improve Overton would be to bulldoze the whole thing and start over? Do you look at all these seemingly undeveloped properties and ask, “Why doesn’t someone do something with this?” Do you sadly watch another graduating class take their diplomas, venture off to fame and fortune, never to return? I do, and I want to turn the tide.

Why do I even bother? Because I love this town. I love its people and I believe in its future.

Downtown Overton drugstore, 1915

“Alrighty then Mr. Pontificator, you’ve got my attention,” those of you with the patience to still be reading this far might say. “I’m all ears! Dispense with your sage words, oh wise one, and dazzle me with your genius!”

So, how do we do it? Well, that’s where I’m in kind of a gray area. Really gray…  like, almost completely in the dark.

Overton welder repairing his truck, 2009

But y’see, I don’t know how we can solve all our problems. I don’t how to make bricks without straw and I can’t turn lead into gold. I’m just one among many in the grandstands cheering the team on, even when the breaks are beating the boys. I do have some ideas but, at the end of the day, I’m just a cheerleader with a big megaphone. I can holler out, “Push ’em back!” but we’ve all got to hold the line if we’re gonna win this thing.

In this community we have a lot of resources. I know sometimes it feels like we don’t. I know sometimes it seems like our problems are too deep set, too much to overcome, but we’re not wholly without options…  there are a lot of talented, intelligent, and stout-hearted people here. There are strong businesses here, businesses that have weathered many a boom and bust.

We need more voices speaking up, offering suggestions and solutions. We need proactive people willing to lay hold of the plow and help cultivate our community. We need the community investing more in itself…  we don’t need to look longingly into the past, but boldly into the future.

Where do we go from here? That is the question I pose to you.

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One thought on “Why do I even bother?

  1. What a great and thought provoking article! Overton was a wonderful town to grow up in and the people were and still are simply the best. How I’d love to come back and see all the businessess on Henderson and Commerce streets booming. My memories of my dear hometown are precious to me.

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