Raisin, TX-The East Texas town of Raisin has found itself in a predictable predicament culminating from the holier-than-thou atmosphere that often pervades small towns across the United States.
When you approach Raisin, a town of 2500 that sits in a dale along a two-lane highway, a gigantic weathered sign depicts an intimate close-up of a strikingly Aryan Jesus on what is arguably one of his worst days.
The wagon wheel-sized pale blue eyes, framed by streaks of blood, glare at you from under a horrific crown of thorns. They follow you into town like the eyes of the Mona Lisa follow you around The Louvre. Under the billboard, a handmade sign dangles in the breeze that simply reads: We (heart) Steapls!
As you crest a hill overlooking the town of Raisin, you see the result of a town’s obsessive symbol worship and a competition to get closer to heaven than anyone else, without actually pegging out. Steeples are everywhere. Big ones, short ones, fat ones, skinny ones and one gigantic lopsided monster smack dab in the middle of the horizon that would have stood at least 500 feet tall, before tilting precariously to the east.
Tawdry Soup stopped at what looked like an open business, but on closer inspection found a dank cobweb-infested old grocery store. Dusty cans sitting on half-empty shelves watched over a collection of desiccated dog turds littering the floor.
A few hunter’s orange gimme caps hung along the wall with the words, “I (heart) Steapls!” crudely written across them in black marker. A rusty bell attached to the door clattered instead of rang as Tawdry Soup entered. “Anybody home?” He called out. Something ran across the floor in the back. “Hello? Anybody here?”
Just then a woman with sunken eyes, who was about 40, but looked 60, appeared from the gloom. “Can you help me?“ asked Tawdry Soup. “I am a reporter from far away and I am trying to find out what happened here.”
“Shhhh..come in here…“ She motioned toward a warm cooler. Tawdry Soup stepped inside. She looked both ways before closing the door behind them, then pulled a chain to turn on a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The smell of something rotting was overwhelming.
She began, “It all started when Mr. and Mrs. Jones, who are quite religious, put a cross on their carport over the driveway. Then the Marks put up a bigger cross to show the Jones who was more religious. Then the Jones not only put up a bigger cross, but a steeple on top of their house. Then the Marks followed that with a bigger steeple.”
“Pretty soon,” she went on, “everyone in town was building a bigger steeple to put on their roof. All the trees around Raisin were cut down to make more steeples. Then the land eroded and the pollution from the pig farms fouled up the water and people starting getting sick.
Since everyone had spent their money on steeples, nobody could pay for a doctor and the hospital closed down. When the city council tried to stop the madness and raise taxes to help with healthcare and fix the pollution, they were all voted out. New people were voted in who not only raised taxes, but put all the money into building more steeples.”
“Then the witch hunts started. The city council passed a law where if you saw or heard anyone talking bad about steeples, you were to report it to the city council. And God help you if you didn’t have a steeple on your house. They even passed a law where you can only use real English in town. That’s where the spelling of steeple as s-t-e-a-p-l-s comes from.” She rolled her eyes and threw up her hands. ”When I told everyone it made the town look stupid because that’s not the way you spell steeple, everyone quit shopping at my store. I made them gimme caps that say “I (heart) steapls” to throw ’em off my scent. There ain‘t no more law here ‘cause we can‘t pay the police. It‘s all militia. Christian militia, by the way.“
Tawdry Soup asked, “But how did it come to this? Raisin seems cut off from the world.“
“Well, it was like this,” the woman continued. “Once the steeple people were firmly in control and the schools were turned to churches and every house had a steeple, they used religious fear tactics to convince everybody to give up any money they had left to build that monstrosity you see leaning over the middle of town. They said it was going to be so tall you could look God right in the eye.
“When it was finally finished, the whole town stood around for the big ceremony and out of the blue, a huge lightening bolt hit it and knocked it catawampus like it is now. You should have seen the lot of them. They all stood around and babbled, realizing what they’ve done cuz the town aint’ got a penny to fix it. Now here we are: The steapl capital of Texas. Anybody need a steapl? ” She threw her head back with a gravelly laugh. Then she asked, “By the way..do you know who won the Govner’s race this last election?”