Leading Off (4/18/13)

People gather for a candlelight vigil at St. Mary's Catholic Church in West, Texas, on Thursday.  Photo: REDERIIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom
People gather for a candlelight vigil at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in West, Texas, on Thursday. Photo: REDERIIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

Fertilizer Plant Explodes in West. Here is the basic story of what happened. I don’t know how much I can add, because when I typed in those five words in bold, I teared up again. I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I grew up in West. There are fatalities, and even though I haven’t seen a list, I’m quite sure I know at least one of the names. I’d be surprised if I didn’t. The town is too small and goes back too many generations. Every quote in every story is from someone I know, so it stands to reason.

The weird thing is I was telling someone about where I grew up at the moment it was happening. Really. The fertilizer plant was about 100 yards from my old house — which may or may not still be standing. I could see it, and smell it, every day I was there. I played basketball in the park across the railroad tracks from it. The school that was partially destroyed was my middle school. I had a fight with a kid in the apartment building that was demolished; we later became friends and he showed me his uncle’s collection of throwing stars. My great-grandmother lived out her last days in the rest home behind that apartment building. The head of emergency services, Dr. George Smith, was my doctor. My friend Mike Lednicky’s parents’ house is gone. A lot of houses are gone. The explosion was the equivalent of a 2.1 earthquake, and it spit fire.

West is in my bones, no matter what. My dad was the superintendent of schools for West ISD for a long time. (He and my mom moved to Waco a few years ago.) My grandmother helped start Westfest, and we had a booth there for a number of years, selling beer bread sandwiches. I could map the entire town from memory. So it means a lot to me, maybe more than I realized. And it means at least a little bit to you. Every single one of you stops at Czech Stop for kolaches whenever you’re going to Austin or wherever, so keep that in mind when it comes to blood donations and everything else.

I stopped in West on the way home from Austin a few weeks ago. My friend Bob wanted kolaches. The last time I was really there was in September, for my high school reunion. I took a long look around my old neighborhood, in the shadow of the fertilizer plant. I’m glad I did, because it’s mostly gone now, and whatever’s left will never be the same. Miluji tě, friends. Stay strong. Sorry this was so rambling.