...two American kids growin' up, in the heartland.

***The names have been changed to protect the awesome people.***

Every drive to see Mrs. A's family in Conroe takes us through a handful of small Texas towns; Brenham, Giddings, Elgin, Montgomery, Navasota. Every time we go through, especially if the town has a Town Square with a gazebo, I expect small town festivities. Oompa bands would play, balloons would drift lazily around, small children would play tag, old people would sit quietly with an iced-tea and reminisce about the war or some store that's been closed down, there would be bar-b-que and beer and funnel cake.

Well, dammit, it never happens. Driving through these small Texas towns -shoot, probably every state's small towns- is an exercise in grave disappointment. If you're lucky you don't take the highway that goes past the housing projects, or the abandoned mill, or the Walmart. However, most of the time, they are but a small pause on the highway, never anything to consider, never anything to stop and peruse, never any reason to stay.

That is, until Stonevale.

Now, I'm changing the names of people because when Mrs. A volunteered me to help her, she didn't make them sign a waiver saying, "My assistant here is a blogger and your names are going online." So to be nice and fair and polite and litigious, it's Stonevale.

And since it felt like being caught in a John Cougar Mellencamp song, the bride and groom will be Jack and Diane (though I could have used Bubba and Susan and got a better effect.)

Anyway, off to Stonevale we go. Stonevale is about an hour away from Austin and is literally a blink on the highway. In 2002 its est. population was an Elk's Lodge member roster over 5,000. Stonevale has a certain mill/plant that keeps the town running. I wish I could say what it was because it is just an awesome tidbit. Stonevale takes about 2 minutes to drive past on the highway, about 10 minutes if you take all the side roads.

So, it's fuckin' small, ok? But before I get my hopes up about small towns and such, like always, I remind myself of Brenham and Giddings and Navasota. Towns that appear charming but always end up being depressingly unhappy almost dead places. I keep my anticipation in check. That is, until we meet the groom's sister in law. We'll call her Marcie.

Marcie was a deep voiced, thin, blond with the thickest Texas accent I'd heard in a long time. If this town had a socialite, I would have expected Marcie to be it. Her husband, we'll call him Jim because I honestly don't remember his name, is also a photographer was was instructed by Marcie -and a few other people- to stay out of Mrs. A way. Poor guy, he was so cool too. Marcie met us at the wedding hall, which was part of a fair ground that consisted of a few big buildings and what appeared to be stables for livestock when the fair was in town. It was finally nice to see the inside of one of these buildings. I always see them from highway, you know the ones; heavy industrial strength siding, long flat and wide with a few regular doors and one big almost garage door that's white. Well, inside, it was a concrete floor with a few restrooms and corkboard walls. There was a kitchen as well. They had gussied the joint up with a trellis, few hundred chairs and a few dozen long and round tables.

But we weren't staying; Marcie whisked us to the Knights of Columbus hall. They called it the K of C and for the first few times I thought they were saying KFC. Honestly, in my head, I knew that they were making the food there so hearing KFC made just as much, if not more sense, than K OF C.

The K of C is a lodge, but off to one side, outside, a few of the groom's buddies were settin' up a fire pit to make some bar-b-que chicken. An old Texas gentleman tipped his baseball cap to us as we took some pictures, then off to the next location we went.

Jack the Groom is part of the Stonevale Volunteer Fire Department. There's no ladder designation I believe because it's the only Fire Dept. in the town. So Jack is a volunteer fire fighter and all his buddies are volunteer firefighters. Half the wedding party were firemen. If there was a fire during the wedding, it would have either burned down or you'd have had the best dressed firemen this side of Waco, and slightly inebriated.

So we got some shots of the groomsmen getting all dallied up and Marcie whisks us back to the Hall where the bride and her maids have arrived and are using the kitchen to get ready. Mrs A. and I set up shop with the laptop and begin taking some pictures. The groom and his men arrive just before the allotted time on a fire truck, lights on, sirens blaring. There's some milling around, the music plays, the bride comes out, the groom looks happy, the parents cry and it's suddenly over. The ceremony was a pleasant 15 minutes. Short and very sweet.

Because dammit, we got 6 kegs of beer to start drinkin'.

Boy howdy, can these folks pack away some beer. With a faint smell of bug bomb lingering through the hall, the party started to kick into its first phase with the tapping of the kegs and the arrival of the food. The bar-b-que chicken and the mustard potato salad (which didn't have the overpowering mustard taste I was expecting, you crazy people in Mrs. A's family should take note) and the bread and the green beans and the peaches and ice-tea all arrived in serving dishes I would have thrown away years ago, but in this time and space seemed timeless and reliable. Even with the K of C markings on the side. And the ice-tea came in a huge white bucket. Awesome.

Before I go any further, I want to insert a bit about the people. I hope you don't mistake my intentions here. I'm not poking fun at anyone or giving the fine folks of Stonevale anything but the highest respect. Being raised in a suburb and spending much time in a metropolis and now living in a sizeable city, I've never been a part of this small town life. It was amazingly friendly and happy and open and honest. They knew they were rednecks. They knew they were small town. And they loved it! The word "shy" was only used to describe babies and "deceptive" when talking about politicians. This was Bible Belt, slap ya on the back, drink another beer, good times. Even though I felt like an outsider with my black clothes and long hair, they didn't make me feel like it. In fact, we had a great time meeting all the people. We walked a fine line between having a job to do and wanting to party with them.

Good folk.

So there's the dinner, then the toast, then the cake. Then suddenly, the entire wedding party starts moving tables and chairs out of the way. Was it over? we asked Marcie's husband Jim. "Oh no," said Jim, a little loose and wobbly. "That was just the first part. This is where the real party starts."

And man was he right. The crowd at the actual wedding would have impressed most people. I would say a good 100 or so people showed up, all nicely dressed. But they left to go change and returned with, what I can only describe as, the rest of the town.

At 7pm the real party started and we saw probably 400 people at its height. The DJs -whom we met and liked and will probably talk to again at other weddings- played a good mix of country and hip hop with just a smattering of polka.

That's right, I said polka. Refer back to the bit where I was talking about oompa music. It took everything I had to sit in my chair and be still when they played the Chicken Dance (dada dada dada dum, dada dada dada dum, dada dada dada dum, clap clap clap clap.) But before the lights went out and the music and beer flowed like Dionysus had hit an above ground pool, there was the Grand March.

The Grand March was one of the most interesting things I've seen in a long time. It was a mix between a Conga-line and Square Dancing. To explain it would be a waste of time, so I'll just let you figure it out. One thing to add early on to that link is that at one point couples make a tunnel or bridge that the couples behind walk through. That was the funny part, and I suspect quite a few goosings and spankings were doled out.

After that our job really wound down. It was all about the drinking and smoking and dancing from that point on, and really, how many pictures do you need of that.

Mrs. A graciously made our exit after it was determined that no car was going to be jacked with shaving cream or condoms and headed home. I was abuzz with admiration and appreciation for my best small Texas town experience. I know nothing with live up to what I have in my head, but this was as close as it could possibly get. The only thing they didn't have was funnel cake.

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