Vidor, Texas 1988, Part II

Posted by mcorcoran on June 15, 2012

Here’s part I if you haven’t read it.

The Klan marches down Main Street of Vidor, 1985.

The horn signals it’s half-time at the Vidor High School
gymnasium where victory for the home team is already out of
the question. Central High from Beaumont, whose players are
all black, built up an early 20-point lead that the slower and
shorter Pirates valiantly but unsuccessfully tried to whittle
away. With both teams back on the floor soon, warming up for
Massacre, Pt. II, the opposing pep squad faces each other with
the length of the court between them. “We’ve got spirit, yes
we do, we’ve got spirit, how ‘bout you!” The Vidor cheerleaders
translate with most of their delegation joining in. Central’s
racially mixed pom-pomsmiths return the cheer, though with
their outnumbered fans it sounds more like an echo than a
challenge. Eager to exploit their advantage, Vidor delivers
the chant louder with each successive volley, parents, teachers
and even self-conscious teenagers adding their voices. Gamely,
Centralites keep the pep challenge going, but it sounds like
a shouting match between Herman Milquetoast and Ethel Merman.

Luckily, Central is saved by the horn that announces the break
is over and Vidorians stomp and hoot for the last time that
I’m in the bleachers as far away from the school spirit
pulse points as one can sit. The three rows ahead of me are
dominated by six or seven men in their mid-thirties to late-
forties. When the black ref whistles a Vidor player for
charging, one of the guys yells “Hey ref, your son wasn’t
set!” and his friends yuck it up in the spirit of good ol’
boy-manship. Within five or ten minutes, though, it becomes
pointless to refute any calls. Central scores each time they
go down the court, taking it to the hoop with authority, while
Vidor is lucky to even get off a shot. Their perimeter passes
are regularly picked off and returned to the Central basket with
a slam.
At the start of the of the fourth quarter, my gimme-capped
neighbors huddle around and pass dollars to one of their own and
tell him something like “three minutes.” One guy says “a minute
and a half” and the others decide that it has to be rounded

Vidor High Pirates basketball team 1955.

off to a full minute. “OK, I say one minute,” he tells the
man holding the money. Forty or fifty seconds into the final
period, a Central player springs from a crouch and intercepts
a pass near mid-court. Three dribbles later he’s airborne at
his own basket, catapults the ball from behind his head through
the iron circle. Choonk! The guy who bet a minute jumps up
and cheers while his friends double-check the time. He won six
dollars for guessing that the next dunk would come one minute
into the final period.
When the buzzer sounds, the board reads Central 80, Vidor
35, but the game really wasn’t that close. Players from each
team shake their opponents’ hands, friends and family of the
winners hug and congratulate them and the embarrassed Pirates
quickly retreat to their locker room to avoid the well-meaning
consolatory cheerfulness that stings like iodine on their open
wound. One of Central’s white cheerleaders put her arms around
the sweaty waist of her team’s star forward and he pulls her
head close to him as they walk toward two waiting busses- one
for the pep squad and one for the players and coaches. Just
a week earlier, Central’s cheerleaders had their bus stopped
and pelted with rocks in Port Arthur after their team lost a
close game against an all-black Lincoln High team, but tonight
there’s no trepidation in their celebration. A police car is
parked alongside the first bus, waiting to escort the team and
cheerleaders back to Beaumont. The officer stands at the gym
door, joking with the announcer and official scorer about the
lopsided game. A mother of one of the Central cagers asks her
son how soon he will be ready to be picked up, gathers her three
younger children and heads them off to their car on the other
side of the parking lot. It’s January 15th. If he had lived,
Martin Luther King Jr. would be 69 today.

Three days later, on the Monday when Dr. King’s birth
is officially celebrated, I am in the offices of the Vidor
Independent School District, which oversees six schools and 5921
students, none of which are black. Underlining Vidor’s tag as a
bedroom community, VISD is the town’s leading employer, with 672 paycheckes emanating from its offices. Classes are in session
this sorta national holiday, in fact it’s a rather dubious
occasion. Community Education director Emily Wetherly is quick
to point out that schools will also be open on Memorial Day and
President’s Day, with the three non-holidays making up fro three
extra days off during Thanksgiving. Then she politely excuses

Bob Brezina was in his second year as Vidor ISD superintendent.

herself and returns with the “new” superintendent, now in his second year at Vidor, Robert Brezina.
The firm handshake and disarming smile belong to the oldest of one of the six football-playing brothers from the University of Houston. “I played on Bill Yeomans’ first UH team in 1959, and from then until 1972 there was always a Brezina on his team”, the 46-year-old product of Louise, TX announces, “and my son Robert Jr. played on Coach Yeomans’ very last team in ’85.”
After a year in the NFL on Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers and one in the AFL with the Houston Oilers, the running back became a football coach, teacher, and finally superintendent. I fish for Lombardi-isms, but Brezina doesn’t bite. Instead he changes his expression to one curtaining serious thought and
heads me to his immaculate office. He’s already had a rough day; earlier he ordered his first expulsion in Vidor, to a 16-
year-old who possessed six marijuana cigarettes at school.

As the superintendent of the nearby Hamshire Fannett school
district for seven years, Brezina took the Vidor position fully
aware of its students’ reputation as poor white trash racists.
“That’s the perception that people in surrounding areas have
of Vidor kids and one of my top priorities since coming here
is to try and change that misconception,” Brezina states, then
throws up an example of how his charges can be hurt by their
town’s bad rap: “Let’s say a boy from Vidor goes to the beach
where he meets a nice girl and starts up a conversation. When
she asks him where he’s from and he tells her, she says ‘Vidor?
My parents told me I can never go out with someone from Vidor!’
and that’s the end of that. But if people got to really know
them they’d realize that they’re good kids. Of course there are
always going to be a few exceptions, but for the most part our
students are as smart, friendly and spirited as any I’ve known
in the past 22 years.
“The high school is the center of the community,” Brezina
states, adding “which isn’t really so prevalent in towns as big
as ours.” In southeast Texas, football is religion; in Vidor
it’s bigger than Jesus, though there’ll be no cocky John Lennon
in shoulder pads to make that claim. The Pirates, the only all-
white 5AAAAA team in the state, haven’t won the district since
1978, but they’re always #1 tops in attendance per capita. Even
during a 22-game losing streak, which stretched from ’81-’83,
an empty seat in Pirate Stadium was rare as high fives on the
Vidor sidelines. “Sometimes on away games there are more people
in the stands from Vidor than there are for the home team,”
according to Brezina.
In Vidor, “extra-curricular” means “open to the public”
and school programs are vital limbs, to be amputated only when
budgetary gangrene leaves no alternative. When the high school
needed enlargement in 1982, the white-knuckled (from clenching
then tight fists) City Council unanimously earmarked $3 million
for the project. The gavel of austerity also pounded loose
$7.7 million for the construction of the Vidor Middle School,
which boasts a synthetic basketball court, carpeted hallways,
an elaborate library, a state-of-the-art auditorium, a twelve-
foot high designer clock, 50’s-chic water fountains and even a
stylish student lounge of ornate chairs and glass-top coffee
tables, sunken under a mammoth stairway. Designed by a noted
Houston firm, this school for fifth and sixth graders
is more likely to reside in the pages of Architectural Digest,
than in “the home of the Ku Klux Klan”.
To Vidorians, their schools are not just an investment
in their future, but a source for enlivenment in the present.
School-related activities are an entrepreneurial sure thing in
this community where families sit together not only on pews,
but on stadium benches and in auditoriums. Even in the late
60’s, when America’s dinner tables were ideological battlefields
and the kids were advised to never trust anyone over 30, the
Generation Gap in Vidor was a slighter crevice than a crack in
the sidewalk. In front of City Hall is a monument to the soldiers who never returned home
from Vietnam. It was built in 1969, years before our nation’s
leaders would similarly honor the dead from that untrendy
war. By ’69, eight Vidorians had given their lives for their
country in Southeast Asia and each of their names is inscribed
in the granite, followed by two newer names and about two feet
of blank space. Set into the bottom of the memorial are those
responsible for it: the Vidor High School class of ’69.

Though the plentiful satellite dishes and M-TV have exposed
Vidor’s youth to new styles, new sounds and new sensibilities,
the apple still does not generally fall far from the tree. And
though several children of Klansmen belong to the Junior KKK,
they are far outnumbered by the Vogue Fashion Fair, one of the
most popular talent and fashion shows, five years running.
Co-sponsored by the VISD and Cindy’s Fabrics and
Bridal Boutique, the Fair is basically a show of formal gowns
that have been made from Butterick patterns (the numbers are in
the program), interspersed with musical performances by the VHS
Madrigals and eight or so student crooners. Half of the
soloists are less than a third of the 14 Packard children,
Vidor’s version of the Osmonds. The 30 or so models are
predominantly in the 14-16 age group, though a few older women
walk the fashion plank during the “Daytime and Career” segment.
The six or seven participating boys are wearing tuxedos from
Cindy’s; the girls are almost entirely in strapless gowns that
softly triangulate from the waist. “Simply elegant” is the
catchphrase of the day from announcers Jimmie Smith of
Beaumont’s KD-98 and Cindy of Cindy’s. About halfway through
the three-hour proceedings, Smith cracks a joke pertaining to
George Jones’ alcohol bouts, not realizing that Jones’ sons
still live in Vidor and one of their wives is sitting in a
sportswear booth near the back of the auditorium. Dead silence.
Smith realizes that something is wrong, they laughed at his
other bad jokes, after all, so he tries to back-pedal into their
favor again. “I kid George about his drinking because that’s
all in his past now. One thing he still is is the greatest
country singer in the world, right?!”, he accents with a hoot.
The crowd claps politely, but unforgiving. Smith yields the
microphone to one of the Packard boys for what I incorrectly
assume to be the grand finale: a twenty-minute version of “The
Most Beautiful Girl In The World” as each and every young model
takes a solo twirl down the runway and returns to semi-circle a
centerpiece of flowers and pastel balloons. After Packard
croons “If you see her, say I’m sorry, sorry” for about the 48th
time, I head for the exit to beat the traffic. I’m almost out
the door when Cindy announces that it’s time for the moment
we’ve all been waiting for, and the pianists starts playing the
Wedding March. From the back of the stage comes the bride, or
at least the mock bride, as the 300 or so on hands clap
furiously. When she reaches her ersatz husband-to-be, the
accompanist throws in a few bars of the Twilight Zone theme,
everyone laughs, especially the dozen or so men in the audience
and then it’s quickly back to the Wedding March. As I leave the
confines of the Vidor Middle School, I circumnavigate the
Madrigals, who are finalizing their choreography on “Na Na Hey
Hey Goodbye”. They move stiffly, without feeling, as if their
bone marrow has been replaced by pipe cleaners. These are the
kids that parents in nearby communities warn their children
about. Begrudgingly, understandingly, they are the victims of a
stereotype that fits only a minute percentage of their fellow

Though the white-robed, pointy-hooded demon at the
edge of town is responsible for much of the ill regard towards
Vidor, the town also suffers from prejudice as the southeast
Texas counterpart to Fresno, Cleveland or Burbank. Like those
nationally-maligned burgs, Vidor is painted as a Podunk haven
for boring, dim-witted hayseeds who lock their keys in their
trucks and tell the locksmith to hurry because it’s starting to
rain and the windows are rolled down. The person who has
probably done most to peg the Vidor type in stereo is radio
announcer and columnist Gordon Baxter, a regional institution
whom many in the region think belongs in an institution. For
more than 30 years, Vidor has served as the posterior in
countless Baxter jokes, though the opinion-smith who first
called it “Bloody Vidor” (because its frequent train-into-car
wrecks) claims no malice. “Some of my best friends live in
Vidor,” he says, “and most everyone there realizes that it’s all
just good-natured hoo haw.” He cites the time in 1975 when- at
the urging of then Superintendent H. J. Cothern, he pulled
punches aimed at Vidor’s mid-section. “Doctor Cothern said some
of the students were upset and hurt from some of the things I
had been joking about, so out of respect to him I laid off for a
while,” Baxter recollects, “but after about two weeks I started
getting calls from people in Vidor wanting to know why I wasn’t
making fun of them anymore. They missed the jabs.” Baxter also
remembers an earlier message he received from a few Vidorians
after he attended Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968 and
praised Dr. King in his next column. In his mailbox was a
calling card which read: “you have just been paid a friendly
visit by the KKK, would you like a real visit?” Soon after, the
Klan called Baxter and asked him to plug their upcoming rally –
all was forgotten, except for something Baxter would tell me 20
years later: “when it comes to ‘niggers’ these people are not
joking around.”
Vidor is one of five Texas cities whose population
doubled from 1960 to 1970 and the only one of those that
repeated the feat from 1970 to 1980. Though North Star Steel
brought industry and 630 jobs to the area in 1976, Vidor is
still primarily a bedroom community for folks where bacon is
brought home from Beaumont, Port Arthur (22 miles away) and
Orange (13 miles away). Before the city incorporated in 1960,
Vidor’s attraction was as a sanctuary from “blacks and taxes.”

28 years after the city taxes were implemented, however, the
influx continues, though it’s a mere trickle of its former gush.
Hard luck has become the only luck at all in the oil dependent
Golden Triangle and the little white circle in the middle feels
the crunch. Un-employment and its stubborn cousin, self-
employment, have risen wildly; plywood has usurped glass in
countless store-fronts on Main St.; the sandpits of Vidor and
adjoining Rose City idly testify to the state’s construction
moratorium; and Moses would be no match for the sea of red ink
that threatens to drown many of the Vidor businesses. All it
takes is a drive through a few neighborhoods during the
traditional Wednesday garage sales to see that this is a town
struggling to make ends meet. It’s nearly impossible to go more
than three blocks without passing at least one yard full of
clothing, furniture and a black and white TV that
either “works!” or “needs fuse.”

Gordon Baxter needs to update
his four-point checklist for determining Vidorian housewives.
There is still “a disabled car in the driveway, a major
appliance in the yard, a dog asleep in their bed”, but they’re
not always “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” Sometimes
they’re barefoot and pregnant in the front yard. And it takes
them at least six rings to get them to the phone on Wednesdays.
One of the few businesses in town that is having a
good year is BF’s Bargain Shop, which looks, from the outside,
like something in which the Japanese population of Stockton
lived in 1943. The long, wooden, chipped-gray façade may
suggest internment, but the owners have done well mining the
common ground between folks who’ve been forced to sell their in-
essentials and those who need a few things, but can’t afford
them new. During its weekly Friday night auction, the store
moves more merch than the Wal-Mart down the street. Packed into
fifteen rows of ancient wooden seats that were salvaged from the
old movie theatre are 108 people bidding for bargains and making
auctioneer Tommy Ard work harder for his 15% than he wants to.
I am sure of the attendance number because when I sign in at the
cluttered desk that reduces the width of the entrance from
twelve feet to four feet I have given a computer card with “109”
written on it in blue marker. Ard, who comes to Vidor from
nearby Silsbee every Friday, oversees his attentive congregation
from a white podium on a three-foot platform. Seated next to
him is a woman half his age whose radical nonchalance screams
out that she would rather be anywhere doing anything instead of
in Vidor recording highest bids. Standing below them are an
older gentleman in overalls and an eager lad of 12 or 13 who
takes turns displaying the items as they are auctioned.

The old guy holds up a lamp with a lime green shade, lifting it below
the base and slowly rotating it. His eyes regard it as an
elegant creation; he’s done this before. Ard starts it off at
ten dollars and a couple of men standing off to the side guffaw
in disbelief; they’ve done this before. “Well, whaddaya think,
then whaddaya think? Whosa gonna start it, whosa gonna start
it?”, Ard quickfires. From off to the side comes “three
dollah”. “Three dollah?”, Ard evens the disbelief score. “What
watermelon truck did you come into town on?” Everyone laughs
and a few are probably reminded of the auction a few weeks
earlier when a big black man showed up. The woman at the front
desk recalls how they all figured he was just somebody passing
through who didn’t know any better, “then we come to find out
he’s lived in Port Arthur all his life and knew exactly what he
was doing.” She goes on to tell me how she was out shopping the
day after the integrated auction when the wife of a Klansman “grabbed me by the arm so hard it left a bruise.” When
Mrs. Klan asked her what the hell she was doing letting niggers
in her auction, she told her she had to let them in; it was
against the law if she didn’t. “I don’t know what they expect
me to do”, she exasperates, as Ard pleads for a bid of three
The next morning, the owner of another second hand
store offers a similar story. She had an old Pontiac Bonneville
for sale in the front of her shop on the I-10 feeder road.
After a few fruitless weeks, she finally sold it to a black man
from Orange. Three or four days later, she was face to face
with two KKK reps who did not care that the brakes were shot and
the car jiggled when it was driven faster than 30 MPH. “They
said, ‘we don’t cotton to niggers’”, she relates in a voice that
owes royalties to Tugboat Annie. “I told ‘em, ‘Hell, I don’t
want to live with them neither, but I’ll take their money.”
Maybe I mean Houseboat Annie. It’s that character from the
Tammy movies. “They started to tell me how I shouldn’t even
take their money,” she continues in that voice you could hang
wet cloths on to dry, “and I said ‘Listen. You give me $250,000
and I’ll give you this shop and everything in it and you can
sell it to whoever you want to, but until then I’ll run my
business any damn way I feel like it.” Imagine Shelley Winters
with a Southern twang and you’ve got it.
It’s Saturday night in Vidor. The Skating Palace on HWY
12 is hopping and there’s also a full house of teenagers at the
Hot Dog Factory, which is actually a front for a pool hall and
video arcade. Across the track, from dry precinct 4, business
at The Fall’s liquor store is brisk, in both their booze and
video rental departments. I’m in line behind a guy with a fifth
of Jack Daniel’s who is trying to decide if he’s already seen
Easy Money, the Rodney Dangerfield movie. “Is that the one
where he goes back to college?” He asks the pretty girl at the
counter. “No, that’s Back to School”, she says. “Is this the one where he’s trying to inherit
a bunch of money? Yeah, Easy Money, that’s the one this is,”
he says handing it back to her, “I done seen that one. Hey,
do y’all have any new Godfather movies?” Thankfully, the other
line clears out and I switch over and check out just as I hear
the guy who was in front of me ask, “Is this the one where they
shoot the guy in the eye?”

When darkness hits, it does so with a screech and a
roar as the favorite past time of hometown
adolescents, “dragging Main” begins. For hours they go up and
down the essential three miles of Main St., from train track to
train track, in their jacked-up Camaros and pick-up trucks with
tinted windows, looking for something, anything to fulfill the
celebratory responsibility at hand. They duck into the
McDonald’s drive-through with their radios on so loud that they
have to scream for their supper, then cruise on over to the Hot
Dog Factory where they sit in their cars and eat and wait for
those girls in the yellow Mustang to glide by. Later, 30 or 40
of them congregate at the crater-infused parking lot where the
movie theatre (“the-a-tre”-three syllables) used to be until it
was torn down soon after projecting Vidor’s last picture show in
1963. 25 years later, the ghost of the Leon Theatre still
mysteriously draws kids to the spot where many of their parents
first held hands; where their mothers pretended that the movie
scared them more than it really did. Today’s teens stand around next to open
car doors and talk, smoke and occasionally bend into their
vehicles to do something that’s not to be seen by cops but not
to be missed by their peers. I swoop close enough to the
tailgate party to hear that all radios are tuned to the same
station and that Bon Jovi sounds much better that way.

Across town, the weekly dance at VFW Post 8246 is well
under way. The sign with the flashing red arrow promises
country and western music from 9pm-1am and at 9:10 I wheel into
the lot where at least 75 cars are already parked and sounds
of Jesse Something and the Something-aires softly flutter and
quicken the gait of an older couple who arrive right after me,
but move to the entrance long before I do. Lateness is not
fashionable in this town hosting four hours of night life each
Outside the entrance, a couple in their late 30’s/
early 40’s face off; she in jeans so tight that she’d have to
push the seat all the way back to be able to drive, and he under
a cowboy hat the size of a pitcher’s mound. “He was too staring
at you, and right in front of me”, he says and starts back into
the dance. She grabs his arm and holds on as he tows her about
ten feet and suddenly stops and pivots. “I never even saw that
guy before in my life” she says “and how the hell do you know he
was staring at me? What do you expect him to do, look at the
ceiling all night?” He just shrugs her hand away and raises an
index finger in warning. “OK maybe he just wanted to see what
brands of pants you’re wearing. But, I’m gonna keep an eye on
that jerk and if he don’t watch himself instead of you, he’s
gonna be getting’ a good view of this” he says as he puts his
square fist an inch from her make-up. To hear all this, I stand
at the entrance and read each of the four or five hand-printed
signs about six times.  I follow them inside and give four dollars to a small old man in a VFW
hat covered with badges and pins. A policeman stands in back of
him against the wall with a “fifteen minutes down, three hours
and 45 minutes to go” expression. Knowing that I stick out like
Lew Alcindor in his eighth grade class picture, I seek out a
dark corner, but the place is lit up like a movie set. When
Jesse Something botches the words to “Jambalaya”, I almost
expect someone to yell “Cut” and some guy in a beret to jump
from the wings and say “It’s ‘Goodbye Joe, we gotta go’, not ‘hi
gotta go’. ‘We gotta go’, you got it? OK, from the top.
Places everyone!” Under the glare I instantly notice four
things: 1) At 32, I’ve just brought the average age down to 49;
2) I’m the only guy in the place not wearing either a cowboy,
military or officer’s hat; 3) besides two of the band members,
I’m the only guy with long hair; and 4) they’re both wearing
cowboy hats. I nervously tap my shoes and ask the guy at the
door where they pay phone is. Luckily it’s in an area where I
was four dollars richer the last time through, so I get a
cosmetic hand stamp and head out at a pace that suggests my
first words into the receiver would be “I’m here, where the hell
are you?”
I drive about a mile down the road and cross the
railroad tracks to buy beer. There are three mini-marts within
a few hundred yards and I choose the Country Pantry because
there are several pickups in front and I feel guilty about
wimping out at the VFW. I head back to the beer department and
disguise my snooping as comparison shopping. A man of about 40,
with longish, dirtyish hair that gravity parts, reaches in and
pulls out a six-pack of Bud. Halfway to the checkout counter,
he suddenly stops and heads back. Trading the 12-ouncers for 16-
ounce cans, he explains to me, “I told the ol’ lady I’d only
drink a six-pack tonight.” I also pick out a six-pack of tall
boys, though the iconoclast in me opts for miller, and follows
him in line. While the cashier looks for a pack of Benson and
Hedges Lights for a kid in a letterman’s jacket with a band
patch, I ask the obedient husband if there is anything to do in
Vidor on a Saturday night. “There ain’t no bars here, but you
can have a few beers and dance at the VFW tonight”, he offers,
then realizing that I don’t look like the VFW type, adds “or you
could find something to do in Beaumont. Watch yourself there,
though. There ain’t a weekend goes by without a few 7-11’s
getting robbed and people getting’ shot for their wallets.” The
cashier stands in front of the kid in the band with her empty
palms outstretched. “Give me a pack of Marlboros then”, he
sighs, and is soon out the door.

Vidorians talk a lot about the crime rate in Beaumont.
It’s one way of justifying their peaceful co-existence with
several white supremacist organizations. The Klan is far
preferable to “what they have in Beaumont”, which is ten-
year olds selling crack on street corners, 24-hour stores
conveniently robbed every night, schools where switchblades are
more important THAN slide rules, rapists on every bus who get
off when your wife, daughter or sister does, and elderly couples
waking up in heaven while young blacks use their credit cards
to buy big orange hats, Zodiac jogging suits and radios the size
of luggage. To many Vidorians, Beaumont is blacks, blacks are
crime and if the Klan keeps blacks off the streets of Vidor,
well, who would care if they marched up and down Main St. in
crotchless purple robes from Frederick’s of Birmingham? Hell,
if not for the Klan, Walmart’s would sell ski masks year round.
Crime is on the rise in Beaumont, with eight serious crimes
per 100 people in 1986, but Vidor isn’t much better, reporting
five serious crimes per 100 people during the same time period.
According to police sergeant Ken Ray, “One of our biggest
problems in Vidor is convincing the people that they do indeed
have a crime problem.”(Note: after this was written Vidor resident David Harris became famous as the true killer in “The Thin Blue Line.)

On Sunday morning, the mean streets of Vidor bring families
from their homes to those of God, the Almighty. There they
give thanks for His gifts; the wonderful schools, beautiful
parks, loving children and the privilege of living in the best
damn country in the world. Then they will open their eyes,raise their heads, get up off their knees and sing the hymn on page 67. They will sing loudly in their best clothes and their
clumsy voices will meld to make a joyful noise.
Their assistant postmaster will also be in his best
clothes, together with his family, singing the hymn on page 67.
But he will be six miles away. It is inconceivable to Leroy
Henry that he will ever be able to sing with his family in the
town where he works. “I wouldn’t move to Vidor. That would be
out of the question,” he remarks with a nervous chuckles. “Uh-
uh, nooooo way.”
There won’t be any black people living in Vidor any time
soon. There are just far fewer blacks who are willing to give
their lives for the right to live there, then there are citizens
of Vidor who are willing to go to prison for killing them.
That’s the black and white fact of the matter.
There is more to the overall Vidor picture, however, than
just in black and white, and I came to find the gray areas. The
more I pecked away at the whole, the more it closed up until the
peg I had brought no longer fit. Every new person I met made me
forget one of the people I brought with me in my mind’s eye. I
started my journey with a view from the overpass on the state’s
most-travelled interstate and here it ends at the foot of aisle
7 at Wood’s grocery store. Before my eyes are dozens of black
faces, or rather, the same black face reproduced on dozens of
Northern toilet tissue packages. It is the face of the baby
with the round innocent eyes of a young doe as it looks up from
the pond to plead compassion from a hunter who squints away.
The toilet tissue display also contains packs with white babies,
though they have all been picked out of the top row, and in a
few places in the second and third rows. The disarray suggests
that shoppers have been moving the black faces aside to get to
white ones. I call the young stock boy over and ask him if they
had sold any packages with black babies yet. “I dunno. Maybe
some of the Mexicans bought some,” he says and goes back to
stamping cans of grapefruit juice.
There are two types of travelers that stop in Vidor. Those
to whom it’s just a small circle on the map would look at
the foot of aisle 7 and tsk tsk about how some people can be
racist even in their choice of toiletries. The traveler who is
aware of Vidor’s reputation, however, would be amazed that the
packages with black faces were put out at all.

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