(I wrote this a couple days after the West Fertilizer Explosion on April 17, 2013. ~jrw~)
I’m not “from” West. I was born in Waco and was raised all over the Waco area (Waco, Bellmead, Hewitt, Lorena/Bruceville – we moved around a lot.) But I never lived in West. I married a girl who was “kinda from” West – she and her family moved right outside of West from Mississippi when she was about 8 years old. But West is my hometown. My three children have only known West as their hometown. We don’t have a Czech name or anything, but this is our town. My wife Michelle is a graduate of West High School, class of 1993. My oldest son Austin is starting his 10th season of playing baseball in the West League. He is an 8th-grader at West Middle School and has never known what it's like to change schools, as I did time and time again growing up. My younger son Cameron is a 5th-grader at West Intermediate School. He is a Boy Scout for West Troop 494. My daughter Bailey is a 3rd-grader at West Elementary School. She and Cameron have both played ball in West League. This is our town. When my wife and I got married and started looking for a place to make our home for our family, we looked in West first. We wanted our kids to be in town where we could get to the schools easily and they’d have close friends nearby to play with and things like that. We looked at several homes for sale, including one less than 2 blocks from the West Fertilizer Plant. We didn’t choose any of the homes in town, opting instead to build a house next to her parents in the country miles away from West. In the back of my mind I always wished we had bought the house by the fertilizer plant – until now.
Let me go back a bit, back to when I was a kid growing up in and around Waco. I knew where West was, I knew it was the home of Westfest, and I thought the people there were all farmers who liked drinking beer. I was a kid and didn’t “know” anyone from West – just what I’d witnessed one night at Westfest as a child and hadn’t been around anything like that before. It’s funny what we remember, or “think” we remember. As I got older and a little bit wiser I met people from West – people that became friends. As a teenager I spent many a night dancing at West Fraternal Auditorium to the bands Cherokee Rose, Sons of the Desert, and Santa Fe (Deryl Dodd’s band back then.) West didn’t become anything I focused on but I did learn more about the people there and that they were more than drinking farmers. I think about my childhood misconceptions often as I think of how the world looked to me then and how it looks to me now, the things I didn’t understand and the things I’ve come to know now.
So back to this girl I married from West – she wasn’t “from West”, but still from West. We have three children who have attended West I.S.D. from day one of kindergarten. They are from West. Right before marrying this girl I had started playing guitar for a band that has close ties to many people in West. We played all over McLennan and Hill counties (and still do) – but I remember the West shows the most it seems. We've performed in the Westfest parade numerous times. We've played at Westfest on just about every stage they have. We played at the Depot and at Coyote Bob's, and Jack & Diane's, and Out West, and Tours Hall, and Lone Star Hall, and Mynar's Bar, and Tokio Store, and Ross Store. I remember meeting all the people then that are now the parents of my children’s classmates and teammates, as well as people that I now just consider my friends. Don’t laugh but I now wish I had been raised in West. I wish I had gotten here sooner. I've been a very small part of West for 15 years. Over the years I have witnessed the kindness that the people of this town show on a daily basis. I have seen the strong support system they have for each other. I’ve been to Westfest and seen that they do like to drink their pivo, but West isn’t just a bunch of farmers - it’s a town full of caring, hard-working, God-fearing people. West is farmers, truck drivers, teachers, nurses, small business owners, mechanics, construction workers, and so much more – the very people who are the backbone of this community and town are the same people who are the backbone of this great state and also of this great country. I’m thankful for these people – all of them. I wouldn’t want to be a part of any other community – these are some of the best folks you could ever wish to know.
My wife rode the school bus every day until she was old enough to drive, as many kids do. She rode the bus a long way, as her parents lived pretty far from town, just as my kids do now. She rode the bus with people like Chris and Kevin Klaus, Robert Church, and the Uptmor’s (Bethany, Brian, and Buck), to name a few. These are the same people that I have grown to know as friends as I have become implanted in West. Some of the people on that short list aren’t here anymore and I wish they were. There are other names on other lists that I wish were still here – good people who have gone on before their time, good people who have families that need them and miss them, good people that you ask God why he called them home already. I’m not the only person feeling this way, I know this. I’m not the only person who is missing a friend today. I’m a very lucky man. I have friends who aren’t so lucky today. Some of my friends don’t have homes today. Some of my friends don’t have a father, or a husband, or a son, or a brother. My heart goes out to those people. I can’t fix it. I can’t put lives back together. No one person can. But this community, this town, it is beyond amazing. It is resilient. There is nowhere on God’s green earth more capable of picking up the pieces like West “comma” Texas.
I didn’t know all of the firefighters and EMT personnel who gave their lives this week in West. I knew a few and I know in my heart that I’m lucky to have known them. I’m a lucky man. My house is 7-1/2 miles as the crow flies from the fertilizer plant. I didn’t have any damage. My son Cameron’s school was destroyed. My son Austin’s school suffered damage. They are going to have to endure some hardships for the remainder of this school year, but it is nothing compared to what their friends and their friends’ families are going through – especially the ones that lived in the impacted part of town. We donated what we could think to donate and I will donate blood and any money that I can. I’m a musician and am sure I’ll be donating my time and talents in that regard when the time comes – there are already benefits being organized and I hope to be included in some, if not all, of them. I’m not a deeply religious person, but I do fear God. Today I thank him. And tomorrow I’ll thank him. And the day after.
I’m not “from” West. No, I’m not. But I love this town and I got here as quick as I could, and I’m not leaving.