Mike took me to Smithville, Texas, for my birthday a couple of months ago. It was probably the sweetest birthday excursion ever. It’s not a tourist stop anymore, but for me it was a bucket list item.
In 1998, Harry Connick, Jr., Sandra Bullock, Gena Rowlands, and Mae Whitman starred in one of my favorite movies, Hope Floats. The trailer is below:
The story was set in a small Texas town called Smithville. The present-day tiny hamlet displayed no differences from its depiction in the movie. The home used for the main set is currently owned by a private family, which meant there were no tours. I resisted knocking on the door to beg for just a quick look-see, but I could not keep from snapping photos from the car window as we drove by.
I pictured the scene with Justin Matisse and Bernice on the beautiful front porch with the spunky little girl packing up his tools and sending him on his way. I actually felt the embarrassment the “Queen of Corn” experienced when seeing her mother stuffing ‘scaredy cats’ on the front lawn.
Although I could not see the backyard of the expansive home, the scene with Gena Rowlands throwing seed to the ducks with her rolled up pants and floppy hat came to mind–and then imagined Birdee do the same thing towards the end of the movie.
Yes, I’ve seen it a hundred times. I still cry when Birdie dances with her father, laugh when Bernice finally gives Big Delores her comeuppance, and sympathize with cousin Travis when his mom doesn’t come home. There are so many scenes in the movie I can recite word-for-word in every single segment. Even as I’m writing this, I can hear the soft lyrics of “To Make You Feel My Love” by Garth Brooks playing in my head. It was incredible to visit the setting of the movie.
After oohing and aahing over the beautiful home, we set our sites on downtown Smithville to find a nice place for dinner. The main street was the same minus the millions of lights directors used for shooting the summer parade at the conclusion of the movie.
We found a restaurant on the main drag called the Back Door Cafe. It was quiet, had a quaint menu that changed from day to day, and the waitress was a sweetheart providing interesting conversation about Smithville and her memories of the Hope Floats crew, even though she was only four when it was filmed. She brought us a glass of a new beer to sample–on the house. The food was delicious and the atmosphere in the family-owned restaurant was relaxing and comfortable.
During the conversation with our waitress, she informed us that Brad Pitt and Sean Penn also filmed a movie in Smithville called The Tree of Life. In fact, Mr. Pitt sat in the exact booth where we enjoyed our dinner. It is wrong that I rubbed the wood and imagined Brad sitting there beside me?
Smithville has hosted the filming crews of many movies, including Beneath the Darkness with Dennis Quaid, Doonby with John Schneider, Natural Selection with Rachel Harris, Bernie with Matthew McConaughey, and a few more lesser known movies, actors, and directors. It is also currently in the process of hosting a crew for a television pilot.
There’s something special in Smithville. It might not be evident on first glance, but the inspiration and life it brings to the screen is magic. The people are warm and friendly, and it oozes limitless small-town, back-in-the-day, Mayberry-like charm.
This bucket list item was checked off with a tinge of sadness. An English teacher once told me that ‘suspension of reality’ was needed to truly enjoy a piece of literature or an excellent movie. I did suspend my reality and fell in love with a fictional dysfunctional family, but my psyche was confused when I experienced the reality of the charismatic small town live and in person. Hope Floats was a touching movie with superb acting, and the small town in which it all happened was totally real. It was a memorable birthday, indeed.
There are more adventures to come.