West, Texas: Down but not out

Melany Jean

Until a few days ago, my hometown of West, Texas, was widely unknown. Travelers often stopped at the Czech Stop, located just off I-35 north of Waco, to pick up a kolache or two, maybe, but very few had ventured beyond that or knew the town for anything more.

Then, on the evening of April 17, the nation watched with horror as West, quite literally, exploded into a chilling fame. Suddenly, my little hometown was everywhere. Every image in the media conjured a memory in my mind, making me wistfully remember the happiness the places being shown in bits and pieces had held.

Growing up in West is a simple childhood. Summers are spent running back and forth between the Playdium pool and the baseball fields. Every school year starts off with Westfest, an annual celebration of the town’s Czech heritage and its parade. High schoolers sneak Gerik Exxon’s burritos into lunch and end senior year with a recital of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” for Mrs. Doherty’s English class. 

West is a small town, home to only about 2,500 residents. Beyond that, though, West is home to a vibrant community spirit. The people of West are like a family. Many families have lived there for generations, descendants of the first immigrants from Czechoslovakia, and those new to the town can’t help but be quickly immersed in its idiosyncratic  atmosphere. This tragedy has left no one in the tight-knit community unscathed. Every loss is a heavy blow, and this disaster certainly has left the town staggering and wounded. But West will not fall. 

If I know one thing about the people of West, it’s that they show up. They’re proud, loud and present. At every game, there’s a devoted crowd, cheering until the last second. At every party, there’s a mob of people, hanging out and laughing until the wee hours of the morning. And in the face of every tragedy, great or small, there’s an army on hand to help however they can until they’re no longer needed. 

This communal spirit has been exemplified in the past week. Countless residents stayed up all night following the explosion, providing relief wherever they could. There were people fighting fires, working the makeshift triage center set up on the football field, searching collapsed buildings and gathering needed supplies. In fact, many of the lives lost were first responders, heroes responding to calamity with courageous service. In the face of tragedy, the switch from shock to aid was swift.

I know that this charisma and perseverance, so characteristic of my hometown, will extend into its recovery. Admittedly, the rebuilding process will be difficult. A lot was lost the night of the explosion, but no one’s giving up hope. Support from all over has been flowing in unceasingly, and that has been heartening and much-needed. Looking forward, there’s a long road to recovery ahead, and West will never be the way it was before the explosion. The spirit of the town, however, will always endure. West is still strong, caring and persevering, and it will pull through this in the end. Some things, no matter how great the blast that challenges them, simply cannot be shaken.

Jean is an anthropology and art history junior from West.