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afford to connect to it. Instead she and her daughter, who share the home, gather water from a well behind the house. A fire that serves as garbage disposal burns 10 feet away from the well, which consists of a concrete cylinder sunk into the earth, covered by a large sheet of plywood. The water is at least 15 feet down. The Townsends draw the water up in pots which sit open on the floor inside. Nearby is a white portable toilet, like a child’s practice potty, with a compartment underneath that can hold several days of waste. A solitary window-unit air conditioner in the front room is all that wards off the oppressive summer heat. Against the wall, a couch hides a hole large enough to swallow a teenager. We have come visiting Townsend with Revous Taylor, who is a real estate developer in Dallas. The 56-year-old Taylor grew up in Sweet Union and traces his family back to the freed slaves who founded the community after the Civil War. In the Sweet Union of his childhood, the farm road through town was dotted with homes and people strode the red clay roads. Neighbors took care of each other. “I remember sionals who left the area long ago to build careers in the big cities, but are now reconnecting to Sweet Union in an effort to halt the downward spiral. They call themselves the Sweet Union Development Corporation. One of the people they have set out to help is Townsend. Taylor estimates that of the 50 or so houses left in Sweet Union, about 40 percent don’t have indoor plumbing. When at their behest, the U.S. Agricultural Department tested the wells, they discovered that many are infected with parasites. About a mile from Townsend’s house down an empty road is the skeleton of an old wooden railroad car. Ida Bean bore five of her twelve children in the car, which she moved into after marrying her husband Dennis in the early 1950s.The boxcar had opened up when its previous occupant, Dennis Bean’s grandfather, died. In those days, the residents of Sweet Union survived by keeping gardens, cutting firewood, and laboring in the sawmill or the smoke houses. Sometimes they would travel to the Panhandle to pick cotton. “Back [then] people had a lot of kids just to help them on the farm,” recalls Taylor. Today Ida Bean lives in a proper when my father would slaughter the hogs, the first couple would go to the community;” he recalls. “We would help each other out. When someone’s house burnt down, everybody would help rebuild it.” Taylor is part of a handful of profes 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 6/7/02