BER-nee, Texas

Several years ago, my wife and I were on our first trip to Prince Edward Island, in the Canadian Maritimes. One evening, we decided to attend a “murder mystery” dinner theater, just for fun, and got to chatting with one of the actors. This guy was playing (or maybe was in real life) an over-the-top loudmouth, and his pre-show job was to meet all the audience members and collect their points of origin. “Where are you from? Where are you from?” Because we were in Canada and no one really knew Texas geography, we didn’t tell anyone we lived in Denton — we said we were from Dallas. Later, during the show, this loudmouth actor would refer to audience members by their locations, not their names, and when it came our turn, he pointed to us and shouted “Dall-ASS! Tex-ASS!”

I’m very happy I didn’t mention the Hill Country town I mostly grew up in: Boerne.

But Boerne, Texas, turned up in my Facebook newsfeed, today, in the form of a Buzzfeed article on places we’re all mispronouncing. It’s #4, and while they get the phonemes right, they get the emphasis wrong: it’s not ber-nee, it’s ber-nee.

Still, it put me in mind of all the stories I’ve set in my old stomping grounds, and I thought I’d list them here:

Curl Up and Burn

This is my most overtly “Boerne” story, complete with a (mostly factual) history of the town and the surrounding area. It’s kind of my bittersweet love note to the place I grew up in and promptly moved away from, only to keep returning to in fiction. It even mentions Boerne in the opening lines:

Every building and every landmark in Boerne, Texas is built from the chalky limestone native to the region. Other than a few wood accents, little cedar posts or oak accent walls, and the water tower gleaming white in the hot Texas sun, everything else is stone. This is how Ford Randall Kempe prefers it. “It’s more durable,” he says.

No Milk Would Come

This one is almost purely fictional, but I used to work in a restaurant similar to the one in this story (the line about the “dysfunctional family” — I stole that from one of the waiters at the restaurant). That place doesn’t exist anymore, but that’s one reason I keep coming back to my hometown — I get to preserve the parts of the town I loved. Also, this is another story that name-drops Boerne in the first line:

The other night I stopped for orange juice at the Pico station on the north side of Boerne, and I picked up this men’s magazine just to browse it, and then I wound up buying it because of this article about sex dolls so realistic you could dress them up and no one would know the difference.

Kicking to Stay On

This one doesn’t mention Boerne by name, but that’s where it’s set. People who grew up there will know it because of the bar: “Later, the gloves stripped away but the chem­i­cal smell still hang­ing on their raw hands and in their scrubbed shirt-sleeves, Bobby and Mikey drank beers at the Rac­coon Saloon.” The ‘Coon (that’s what all the Boerne residents know it as) doesn’t exist anymore, either, but in my fictional Boerne, it’s a mainstay.

Barefoot in the Guadalupe

This is another of my “love note” stories, though the narrator is no real fan of the town or even the state of Texas. His best friend, though, adores it: “Tommy had only lived in the Hill Country for a year when I met him.  He loved the place: the cedar brush here in Boerne, the dusty meadows surrounding the San Antonio suburbs, the fake concrete Stonehenge out in a field off FM 1340.”

Horror Vacui

This story — about an accountant-turned-sword-swallower who has some issues with his bowels — isn’t really about Boerne, but it does, at one point, give the address of the protagonist, and, you guessed it, it’s in Boerne. (Actually, though the address is totally made-up, the house I describe in it is only a few streets up the hill from my parents’ house.)

There are other stories less explicitly Boerne-esque — no references to the town, direct or indirect — but I know they’re set there, and people who grew up in the area might recognize some of the landmarks. There are even a few stories (“Bathe in the Doggone Sin”; “A Few May Remember”; and the related stories “Air Enough At Last,” “Potato,” “A Smooth, Clean Cut,” and “Dream with Enough Conviction“) that are set in my own neighborhood.

I could write a much, MUCH longer blog post about why I keep returning, in fiction, to this part of my world. I could probably write a book about it, or at least several chapters in a book, and maybe some day I will. But in a way, I already have written a book about it — you just have to read all my fiction.

Which I hope you will.

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3 thoughts on “BER-nee, Texas

  1. Oh tell me about places and how they’re pronounced! Said the Scot. LOL.

    Interesting how you have used a familiar stamping ground so many times. I’ve done exactly the opposite, as though writing about something else was a kind of challenge I’m taking up compulsively.

    1. My first completed novel, a comedy I wrote for my undergraduate thesis, I set in Chicago, even though I’d never been there. I picked it mostly because of a scene in a park, near a zoo — looking at a map (on paper, in the days before Google Earth), I found a spot in the Lincoln Park zoo that seemed like what I was picturing, so I set the whole novel there.

      Years later, my wife and I finally had a chance to visit Chicago, and not only did I discover it’s now our second-favorite city in America, I also was amazed by how much I’d got right just in my imagination. But it never FELT right, and in my (still incomplete) revision of the book, I moved it to San Antonio, Texas, a city I am much more familiar with.

      For all my love of fiction as escapism, familiarity still feels important to my writing.

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