What’s a Mason? A type of brick layer, certainly. A trendy boy’s name, yes. And, most importantly, it’s a tiny town halfway between Austin and San Angelo whose total population could easily fit into my high school. So how is it that I wound up neck deep in Puncher (Mason’s awesome high school mascot) territory?
I was commissioned by a local magazine to write a travel piece on the little gem I had previously only seen on the corner of the weather man’s forecast map. I knew little about the county seat of Mason County, but I did know it was the birthplace of my friend Mixon who generously offered to be tour guide during my Westward excursion.
Here’s what you need to know about Mason:
•Its main exports are Topaz (the state gem of Texas, which is particularly ironic because Mason County is the only place my birthstone has ever been discovered within Texas borders) and sand.
•Besides being the hometown of my award-winning writer friend Mixon, Mason is also home to another popular writer: Fred Gipson, author of the heart wrenching story of Old Yeller.
• Until recently, prisoners of the Mason County Jail were forced to wear bright pink jumpsuits in an effort to encourage delinquents to reform their law-breaking ways.
• The recreational activity of choice for the locals is driving “the loop,” a dirt road which loops around the town and across the hill country landscape. Poor conditions of the road limit drivers to a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour, which is probably best since drinking and driving on the excursion is par for the course.
But Mason is more than Jeopardian tidbits and factoids. After driving two hours west on Highway 29, Mason is the first town along the highway that actually compels travelers to stop and stay awhile. Old stone houses, chock-full or character, welcome visitors from either side of the road, and unlike most of the drive to that point, Mason is hilly and lush with mature trees. But what really makes Mason noteworthy are the people. As is typical with small towns, everyone knows everyone. Grab lunch with a local in one of Mason’s cafes and they can tell you a story about any other Mason native that passes by the storefront; that guy drove his truck into a telephone pole last week, those folks own the movie theatre. But it’s not the trivial, gossip-ridden stories that might circulate in a high school of the same size. When you live and work with the same folks for 10, 20 and 50 years, the stories become part of the town’s history and are told with a sense of ownership and pride, like an author writing down a chapter of a novel. Mason’s 2,000 residents know how to live next to each other, but also how to appreciate one another at the same time. The waitress in the cafe always knows who at the table is going to take care of the check, and the storekeeper on the square knows all about the back up quarterback’s knee injury. It’s smal town living at its finest.