Right in the middle of everything

SHORTLY after moving to the country I received a valuable lesson in the sometimes-difficult art of looking at things as others see them. Perhaps part of the difficulty is that we usually take the task so seriously: ``Never judge a man,'' so goes the Indian proverb, ``until you have walked six months in his moccasins.'' It is a sobering thought, but a useful practice. And so I treasure those small, everyday experiences that provide more lighthearted insights into the matter of personal perspective. The tiny south Texas town to which I moved had been my mother's childhood home, and I remember my own child-hood visits there. A narrow dirt road ran to Grandpa's farm, a wonderfully primitive place where you pumped water on the back porch and got along without gas, electricity, or indoor plumbing. My sister and I, city girls to the core, considered Bayside the very end of the earth.

Fifty years later the roads are asphalt and my house is all electric, but Bayside still is so unimposing that a visitor recently called from the next town for directions, having driven right past it at night. I still regarded it as the end of the earth, a perfect getaway place for a much-needed sabbatical.

Then the local plumber came by to do some repairs, and his assistant gave me a whole new outlook.

``You've picked a wonderful place to live!'' he exclaimed, and I supposed he was going to expound on the virtues of small-town life vs. the big-city rat race. But, no.

``It's just like my hometown,'' he continued, ``right in the middle of every-thing!''

The notion was dazzling, but his logic was impeccable as he went on to explain: Bayside was just 22 miles from Corpus Christi. And 21 from Sinton. And exactly 17 miles from Refugio, Portland, and Woodsboro! Right in the middle of everything.

Wow. I confess that I was amused as well as bemused.

Corpus Christi is a sparkling bay-front city, just large enough for all the cultural and shopping amenities. But -- Sinton? Well, Sinton and Refugio are county seats, which I guess counts for something.

But -- what, you never heard of Woodsboro? Well, come to think of it, that little burg harbors a personal treasure of very dear aunts, uncles, and cousins. As do Corpus Christi and Portland....

Gee. Instead of being out of it all -- well, it is just a matter of perspective. MY niece and her husband provided another lesson when they arrived for a visit. We had business in Refugio and found ourselves with extra time before an appointment. What was there to do?

There was, I suggested, a good little historical museum. I filled the resulting pause by adding that it also had a fine library with an outstanding Texas history collection.

OK, I suppose only a writer (and one with a passion for history) would think of showing visitors around a library. My guests' expressions of disinterest were benign; clearly one must make allow-ances for older relatives with eccentric tastes.

But what, then, was there to do?

As we pondered the question, driving by some lovely old mansions for which the town is noted, my nephew's attention was captured by a repair crew for the local electric company. An electrical maintenance supervisor himself, he studied their operation with surpassing interest.

A few blocks farther along, there was another crew at work! And then the open yard of the maintenance building itself, with all sorts of (to me) arcane equipment on view, a thoroughly absorbing sight.

My niece is a realtor. Refugio's Victorian and plantation-style mansions are products of the cattle and oil booms before and after the turn of the century. And its streets, unspoiled by urban renewal projects, document all the years between then and now. As we browsed the town -- dawdling past electric repair sites -- we passed houses, beautifully kept up, in the style of the 1920s. And the 1930s. Prewar houses, postwar houses, 1950s houses. My niece was fascinated.

Now I admit that a library is not everyone's idea of a tourist attraction, but -- stucco bungalows and duplexes? Electric repair sites? PERSONAL perspectives can be mutually mystifying, marvelous, unique. My favorite example of this truth occurred some years ago when my husband bought his first work car, an elderly Volkswagen beetle. It was not much to look at but it would get him to work and free me and the family car for chauffering the children to their myriad activities.

Shortly afterward, while visiting a neighbor across the street, I mentioned the ``new'' car. Her son was standing by, as we chatted in their garage.

Steve was the quintessential shade-tree mechanic. He was so enamored of cars that at age 17 he had managed to acquire two of them. He had a car of fairly recent vintage, for transportation. And he still had his first car, an aging hulk that spent most of its time on blocks while he explored its innards.

When I mentioned our acquisition, he glanced at the ancient heap sitting in our driveway and his face lit up. His expression was mystifying. Could it be -- surely it appeared to be -- envy? Why on earth would that old bucket of bolts inspire a look of such deep and unfath-omable longing?

Then came the explanation.

``Gee,'' said Steve wistfully, ``with a car like that, you'll always have something breaking down to work on.''

Well, of course. Gosh, what a jolly thought. (Prophetic, too, alas.) But it is all, you see, just a matter of perspective.

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