Fifty miles southwest of Houston, along what is now Highway 59, lies the coastal plains town of Wharton, Texas. One of its renowned residents lives today in the house his family first occupied when he was one year old. He is Horton Foote, Academy Award-winning screenwriter, playwright, and author. Farewell: A Memoir of a Texas Childhood is his latest work, a memoir of his south Texas childhood, covering the years 1916 through 1933.
Horton Foote, Jr. grew up surrounded by two large extended families, with two sets of grandparents and countless uncles, aunts, and cousins. Farewell, told through a series of anecdotes, tells of his education in the public schools, his talent for dramatic acting and academics, and his large family's reach throughout the community. Foote sits at the feet of maiden aunts and drunken uncles to hear them recount times starting during the Civil War and continuing through to the Depression. His two uncles keep the family worried about their constant drinking and gambling. Foote's father struggles to support his family as a shopkeeper. Throughout Foote's childhood, family is the center of his life, as it is the center of Wharton.
The author presents scenes of the segregated South in the first half of the century, with stories of KKK meetings and a rural lynching. Black professionals of the town are lauded for their meek and polite manners, and are called a credit to their race. Foote recounts a time when black and white children routinely played together until school age, when segregation forced them apart. The everyday poverty of the cotton farmers and small shopkeepers serves as backdrop for Foote's discussions of the Roosevelt era and the Democratic party so fervently supported by his father.
Foote graduates with honors from Wharton High School in 1932, eager to go off to New York to study acting and make his career on the stage. But his family's poverty short circuits that dream, and he settles for the Pasadena Playhouse in California.
Foote's writing is superb, clear, concise, and straightforward, as befits a son of Depression-era Texans. His presentation is almost journalistic in tone, never succumbing to emotion or pity when describing his family and his childhood. Known as the Chekov of the small town, Foote has always chosen home, family, and ordinary men for his subjects. In Farewell he does so again.
David Sinclair is a former English Literature teacher and reviewer in Wichita Falls, Texas.