Y’all Come Back

Every high school has a homecoming. But in the West Texas town of Spur, the beloved yearly ritual is more accurately described as an invasion.

A FEW YEARS BACK, Beverly and Bill Watson, both of whom graduated from high school in the tiny West Texas town of Spur in the mid-fifties, found themselves faced with an agonizing dilemma. Bill’s elderly mother, a lifelong Spur resident, had sold her home without telling anyone and moved into an assisted-living facility. At the time, the couple was living in Lubbock. “Honey,” Beverly said to Bill. “We’ve got a problem. We don’t have a place to stay anymore for homecoming.”

The loss of free lodging shouldn’t have been much of a hardship. Lubbock is just seventy miles away—not exactly a major trek. Instead of sleeping at Bill’s mother’s house, all they would need to do for future homecomings was get up in the morning, drive for an hour to Spur, be there for the day, drive home that night, and then do it again the next day. What kind of problem was that?

Oh, no, you don’t understand,” Beverly told me. “We weren’t going to take the chance of missing any of the festivities due to us being in our car.”

So Beverly and Bill, who owned a business that built highway signs and barricades, plunked down $65,000 for a house in Spur, and then they spent another $65,000 fixing it up and furnishing it. All for a house they intended to stay in for just one weekend a year.

 “Best investment we could have ever made,” said Beverly.

Every Texas high school, of course, has a homecoming. It typically consists of a ceremony during halftime of a Friday night football game in which one of the school’s most popular girls is crowned homecoming queen. And then there is homecoming in Spur, population 1,088. Held the last weekend of October, it begins on a Thursday night with a hamburger supper and continues nonstop until Sunday afternoon. Not only is there a football game and the crowning of the homecoming queen, there are two pep rallies, a bonfire, a homecoming assembly at the high school, various barbecue lunches and tailgate suppers for the entire town, two homecoming dances at the Exhibition Barn, a concert at the Palace Theatre, a Cowboy Prayer Breakfast, and a gigantic parade through the center of Spur featuring a couple dozen floats.

At least three hundred graduates of Spur High School who no longer live in Spur arrive each year for homecoming weekend. “They’re not just coming from neighboring towns,” said Liz Daughtry, a graduate of the class of 1947 who spent ten years as the executive secretary of the alumni association. “They fly in from California, from New Jersey, those kinds of states. They drive their RVs in from all over the country. Goodness gracious, it’s like an invasion.”

WHEN I HEADED SOUTH on Texas Highway 70 to attend this year’s homecoming, I thought I was on the road to nowhere. I saw one vehicle, a cattle truck. Toward the horizon, a couple of pump jacks were creaking back and forth. “There can’t be a town out here,” I thought. Then the road swung to the right, back to the left, went up a hill, and just like that, I was in the heart of Spur. I turned onto Burlington, the town’s main street, and I saw close to a hundred people mingling in the small city park. Cheerleaders were prancing around in front of a stage, and the high school band was playing “Barbara Ann.” It was early Thursday evening: The first pep rally was already under way. I got out of my car, and a seventy-year-old man named Joe Bell, class of 1953, came up to me and said, “You the texas monthly boy? Welcome to Spur. It’s a darned good day to be in Spur, Texas.”

Bell told me he had driven up from Odessa, where he works for a substance abuse clinic. “Thirty-fifth year in a row I’ve been here,” he said. “And when I can’t walk any longer, I’ll make someone wheel me over here.”

But why?” I asked.

You wait till the weekend’s over. You’ll know the answer.”

I checked into a bed-and-breakfast—the Back Door Inn, a gift shop that has a handful of bedrooms in the back of the building, all of them decorated with Old West knickknacks—and then drove over to the South Plains Electric Cooperative, where the class of 1955 was gathering in the banquet room to celebrate its fiftieth reunion. Women handed me slices of cake, plates of cookies, chips and dip. Every time I finished one thing, someone was handing me something else to try. “That’s another reason I wanted to buy a home here,” said Beverly Watson, who had made a Black Russian chocolate cake for the evening. “I didn’t want to be lugging so much food from Lubbock every day.”

After Bill’s retirement, he and Beverly decided to live full-time in Spur. Five others from the original 48-member class of 1955 have also moved back to Spur in the past few years. At another point during the weekend, I met 81-year-old Bill Carlisle, who had graduated from Spur High in 1940 and ended up in the nearby town of Post, which is not all that different from Spur, where he spent the next fifty years farming and ranching. “The day I retired,” he said, “I told my wife to get packed, because we’re going back to Spur. People from Post just about dropped their false teeth when they realized I was serious. But I said, ‘I was born in Spur and I’m going to die in Spur and that’s all there is to it.’”

SPUR WAS FOUNDED IN 1907, when the owners of the Spur Ranch began subdividing their land to sell to settlers. Two years later, stores were opening and a railroad train was stopping at the depot. By the forties, Spur had 110 businesses and more than three thousand residents. There were movie theaters, auto dealerships, grocery stores, mom-and-pop restaurants. During the fall, the high school football stadium was packed on Friday nights. On Saturdays, farmers and ranchers arrived

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