The spectrum of Reunion ranges from raucous innocence to depraved debauchery.
Children scream shrilly as water balloons rain down like hail. Some burst in slow motion atop pigtails and crewcuts, while others bounce harmlessly across dirt paths, brightly-colored gelatinous globules gushing onto dry ground. The children run like a pack of jackrabbits in a grassfire between rows of dusty cabins.
One row over, inside a cabin, drunken hoots and hollers bellow forth like misplaced war cries. A fist pounds a table as a ring of glazed-over eyes watches a pair of dice settle on a worn table. Rising coils of smoke mingle with the stench of sour beer.
The full range of the human experience belches itself out during the organized chaos delicately referred to as Wise County Old Settlers Reunion.
Teenage girls fall in and out love in the course of a week, left forever with faint emotional scars etched on young, burning hearts. Young men high on testosterone and Natty Light resort to fisticuffs amid a sea of trucks in a dirt- and grass-covered parking lot.
It’s that last full week in July when the summer sun has dried out the earth like beef jerky. Families, descendants and friends scattered across the continent return to ramshackle cabins lined among twisted old oaks beside a barely bubbling creek. The creek cuts deep into the earth, exposing layers of the past – the same earth laid bare when grizzled Civil War veterans missing limbs and teeth gathered their wagons under those same trees, firing cannons and sharing war stories.
Water balloons have replaced the cannons, and washers and dominoes have taken the place of war stories and political speeches. And the moonshine has been replaced with … well, more moonshine.
Locals say it can’t be understood by outsiders. But I think everybody can get it if they try. It delves into the antiquity of social evolution.
It’s humankind in a base, communal, almost tribe-like state. There are no locked doors. Everything is shared, from ice-cold beverages to Maw-maw’s casseroles. It’s Wise County’s version of Burning Man – that annual festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
For children there are no clocks, no alarms, no bedtimes. They run around until they’re so exhausted they can actually collapse into a deep sleep in the open air on a dingy, probably mildewed old mattress in Texas summer heat so intense that even at night it might be 90 degrees.
And for a week, the children actually function just fine without Xboxes or episodes of “Wizards of Waverly Place.”
Like all tales covering the human experience, there must be legend. There must be magic. And the legend of Reunion is Roscoe the Rat, a now-mythical creature on par with Runaway Bay’s chupacabra.
Roscoe was once a celebrity at Reunion. He ran his own version of redneck roulette. Every year, when the carnies set out their rides and games, his game was the most popular.
He lived in a box under a large wheel. The wheel was sliced into colors of red, green and blue. At the large end of each colored slice was a hole. Players of the game placed a bet onto which hole or color Roscoe would dive into. For those few moments when Roscoe dashed around that multi-colored wheel, he was a star.
Most people can’t recall a time before Roscoe – but sadly, they know of a time after.
You see, in Texas, you can’t run a gambling operation if the house takes in any money. And in this case, Roscoe and his carnie buddies were racking up some money on this game. So the law shut him down – drove him underground.
But like any real legend, Roscoe won’t die.
As long as there is Reunion there will be Roscoe. He’s out there, darting among cascading water balloons, hiding beneath the hat of the man betting it all on a lucky dice roll.
His legend completes the spectrum of the human condition, the guilty and the innocent found among the dusty camps, beneath the stars and the oaks, among the briars and spiders and snakes and the kind, sharing hearts of good people – the storytellers, cooks, jokesters, pranksters, dancers, singers, drinkers, gamers and gamblers that make up Wise County Old Settlers Reunion.
Brandon Evans is a Messenger reporter.
Follow adventures of Roscoe on Twitter @Roscoe_the_Rat