Cleveland, Texas: A Remarkable Childhood

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cleveland, texas

Cleveland, Texas: A Remarkable Childhood

Cleveland sits on the edge of the Piney Woods of East Texas.  It’s about an hour north of, and in the long, tall shadow of, the Energy Capital of the World, Houston, TX.

I grew up on the fringe of Cleveland. We had a Cleveland address, but we were about 4 miles outside the city limits.  Some people call it the boonies, BFE, the sticks; we call it “the woods”. That is an apt description of where our house was.

The town got its start in the mid to late 1800s when a gentleman with the last name Cleveland donated some land for use as a railway stop. You wouldn’t have to be a history buff to know that Cleveland was a railroad town. The train tracks made this clear as they ran right through the middle of downtown. One line was east-west and the other was north-south. The north-south line was the busiest. It would quite often create congestion when a train that seemed a mile long stopped on the tracks and effectively cut off the halves of the town from each other.

I can remember that we had two fire stations. One on each side of the tracks. I never did put a penny on those tracks the whole time I lived there. Mom and Dad instilled in me the fear of losing the lower half of my torso. I did not want to wind up bisected by the train like Cleveland.

Economically, Cleveland was, and still is, a lower class to a lower-middle class town. I do remember there being quite a few poor people. There were also some wealthy people in Cleveland. But, they were the exception rather than the rule. And they lived in either Kirby Woods or on Circle Drive. We were in the middle, financially; just plain ole average, if not slightly below. I never lacked anything, though I never had the most fashionable clothes or the newest toys. Believe it or not, I’m very thankful for that. I saw dad have to work hard for the stuff we had. And sometimes, I had to work hard right along with him. Working hard molded me. It made me appreciate, and be thankful for, what I had. Though, it did take a few years for all the lessons to sink in.

One of my best memories is one particular Christmas. My brother, Randy, and I had always wanted dirt bikes. Our cousin, who lived right through the woods from us, had a dirt bike, a three-wheeler, a go-cart, a Mongoose BMX racing bicycle, an Atari, an Intellivision, every Hot Wheels known to man, a pool table, a trampoline, and the list goes on. No, we were not allowed to play with them. But, he exemplified the material standard to which we aspired.

This one Christmas, mom and dad got us these Dingo go-karts. Not the dirt bikes we wanted, but they had motors and boy were they fun. That whole Christmas week it rained and Randy and I turned the front yard into a circle track of mud. After that, dad used the tractor and the box blade to cut us a track through the woods behind the house. We even named it: “The Go-kart Trail”. I’m 45 now. We still call it that…and it’s still there.

Cleveland - Dingo Go Cart PIC: CW

Cleveland – Dingo Go Cart PIC: CW

When I was two or three, dad built the house that we lived in. He and mom still live in it to this day. It’s nothing fancy. A single story rectangle with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. It stood on two cleared acres (dad has since cleared more acreage around the house) that sat inside of several hundred acres that belonged to several different relatives on dad’s side. Our driveway was at one time a wagon trail. If we followed the fence line at its edge about a mile into the woods, there was an old water well and not far from it was a gravestone. We never could make out what it said. Reportedly, some Indian arrowheads were discovered in the area.  I never saw any of those.

At one end of our road was US59. It’s now I-69. The auction barn sat conveniently at that intersection. I use “the” because, for me as a kid, it was the only one. Grandpa had 300 hundred or so acres several miles north in Shepherd, TX. He ran a hundred head of cattle up there. Occasionally, we loaded up a few head and trailered them down to the auction bar for sale. I never knew why the buyers purchased them and I never asked either. I thought that I probably didn’t want to know the answer.

On the few acres that were directly behind the house, we had three horses and a pen in which we fed out calves to eventually take to the slaughter-house. I hated those days. Backing the trailer up to the pen and having to load the calf into it. Then driving to Coldspring to drop the calf off so that it could be neatly packaged in white butcher paper.  I reckon dad hated those days, too. If more people had to hunt or raise and then kill their own food, there would be a lot more vegetarians.

I saw dad have to work hard for the stuff we had. And sometimes, I had to work hard right along with him. Working hard molded me. It made me appreciate, and be thankful for, what I had.


An acre over from the house was Pin Oak Baptist Church. My great-grandfather donated the two acres on which the church stood. At least, that’s what I remember being told. It makes sense because it was smack in the middle of Williams land. The church, as one can tell by its name, was Baptist. I grew up Catholic. Not one single Williams attended that church. I always thought that odd.

Behind the church was a graveyard. Movies portray graveyards and cemeteries as places that kids love to hang out and desecrate. We didn’t mess around in there much, if at all. I recall setting foot in the graveyard only one time.  That was because some artificial flowers somehow wound up on our side of the fence. I felt obliged to return them to what I decided was their rightful place.

Not far from Cleveland is Sam Houston National Forest. It’s over a hundred thousand acres of piney woods. Pine trees, lakes, streams, and trails. We visited a few times and camped out there once or twice. Though it’s not far from where I grew up, the vegetative habitat is a world different. Pine trees abound there. Tall, skinny, evergreens that grow fast and straight with few low branches. The loblolly pine is the quintessential tree of the area. There is a variety of other trees there, oaks and other hardwoods. But, the pine tree is dominant and stands of pine trees piercing the blue sky with an undergrowth carpet of ferns is what comes to mind when I imagine the Piney Woods.

A common sight anywhere around the area was a logging truck rolling to the mill. It would be packed to the hilt with cut pine. The longest tree would be sticking off the end of the trailer a good 8 to 10 feet. A small red shop towel would be staked to it with an old screwdriver.  The warning device would be flapping in the wind as the truck thundered down the highway. The loggers cut and cleared dirt logging roads everywhere. They made for some easy and interesting exploring, even though it meant trespassing. It was innocent for us, however. We were nothing more than curious to see what had been going on.

In the 80s I saw Wal-Mart move in and put most of the small shops out of business. Then, construction of the bypass was completed and that killed off the rest. Downtown, like in so much of small rural America, became dead town. In time all the national chain businesses migrated to the main highway intersection of the bypass and that became the de facto center of town. Even Wal-Mart moved there after a number of years.

Eventually, I relocated to other places where I thought better opportunities existed. Though I said goodbye to Cleveland, Texas, it never really left me. My life there seemed, at the time, unremarkable.

I now realize that it was remarkable.

If you’re interested in exploring small town and rural Texas, camping is a good option. Check out the top camping spots in Texas.

Clint Williams

Clint Williams

Clint is just an average person that throughout his life has yearned for peace and simplicity. He is a freelance writer, photographer, and thinker. He currently lives aboard a sailboat with his high school sweetheart and wife where he is close to the ocean. He plans to travel the seas in search of uncommon and wonderful places and experiences.

1 Comment

  • Erika

    I want a dingo..

    May 4, 2017 at 7:39 pm