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Monday, 18 February 2019 22:39

The Trip to Nada

Written by Bob Short
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Bob Short - New England Chapter, Executive Coordinator

On Friday noon, after four and a half days of restoring a house with the Houston Chapter Mission project, two of the facilitators, Bob & Ruth Kleeman, took the Affiliate mission members on a trip to give us a taste of rural Texas.  We hopped into three cars and headed out on a two-hour ride across the vast, flat landscape of southeastern Texas to a little town called Nada. 

For those with even a cursory knowledge of Spanish, “Nada” initially seemed like a perfectly fitting name. The town-folk we spoke with estimated that there were a little over 300 people in town. However, the last available census in 2000 counted only 165. The discrepancy is probably attributable to genuine local pride.  Reportedly, Nada boasts a grocery store and US Post Office.  All any of us could see that day along Highway 71, which cuts through the center of town, were an auto garage and Leo’s Place, a bar and restaurant.  Checking on Facebook for “Things to do in Nada, TX” brings up a photo of an open crop field with a John Deere combine and a truck in the distance. No other photos or text appear on the page.

The first person I saw when we pulled off the highway between Leo’s Place and the garage was a large 30-something man pumping gas from pumps that looked like something from a 1970s movie. He had a long, straggly, red beard, copious tattoos and a gray soiled T-shirt with the phrase, “Happiness is annoying liberals!” scrawled across the front. Actually, the word emblazoned on his shirt was not “annoying” but something rather vulgar, not fit for this esteemed newsletter. Inside the very cluttered garage were trophy animals on the walls, pinup girls, negative posters of Hillary Clinton & President Obama, lots of references to beer and, in a small space cleared of clutter, (kind of) a circle of seven or eight chairs. 

After just a few minutes of taking this all in, it wouldn’t have been a big leap for me and the other Affiliates to conclude that this establishment probably fit the definition of redneck, perhaps the town, too. Of course, we would have been wrong.  Because, not only is judging never a good thing, but neither is assigning a characterization (redneck) after less than 20 minutes in the town.

To begin with, Nada is actually pronounced nei duh and is an Americanized version of the Czech word “naděje,” meaning “hope.” The Czechs settled the town in February of 1881 and Germans followed soon after. The very first of those settlers was J. William Schoellmann and his family. Three quarters of a century later, Edward “Tex” Schoellmann from Nada was ordained a Maryknoll priest and, while semi-retired, continues to serve in Tanzania. During the visit, we had the chance to meet with Fr. Ed’s older brother, a tall, gentle, and very kind man who stayed in Nada all his life to farm the land. He introduced us to his wife and other town folks and gave us a wonderful tour of the town, including an impressive Catholic Church for such a small population. Also included in the tour was a visit to Leo’s Place, owned by the Schoellmann clan. At Leo’s we were treated to free beers, customary Nada hors› d’oeuvres and a good deal of wonderful small town hospitality. 

In the end, spending a few hours with the folks of Nada was not nearly enough time to make an honest assessment.  I can still neither get over the unease about what we saw in the auto garage shop nor the gratefulness I felt for the warm welcome from the very good, down-to-earth people who received us. And too, that circle of chairs in the garage brought to mind an image of a small community of town folks just trying to help one another make sense of each day. There is always more complexity to just about anything than what first impressions provide.

Bob and Ruth Kleeman had hoped to give us a taste of rural Texas.  Looking back on our visit to Nada, I think it’s fair to say that they had provided us with one of life’s unique moments. Thanks, Bob and Ruth.


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