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Just a small town girl

Eleana Campos is taken with the big town sights of Beaumont. UP photo by Aaron Saenz

Road trips through Texas can take one through many places that show how big the state is. The roads pass through many towns, some that are so small it is little more than a neighborhood.

Eleana Campos grew up in a town just like that. The freshman’s hometown of Freer has only 2,390 people and there were only 47 students in her graduation class.

The town may be smaller than normal, but Campo, who is a member of Lamar University’s track team, said the community felt like a family.

“Every time I accomplished something big in running, everyone was very supportive,” she said. “It felt like I had a support system. You can say I had a whole town backing me up.”

Most people are used to having variety when it comes to getting groceries or food, but Campos said that there was one grocery store and one fast food chain for the whole town.

“The biggest store in the town is the Lowe’s supermarket,” Campos said. “It was the only supermarket and the only place where you could get meat. I would go here every day with my mom to get stuff for dinner. I always ran into people I knew. For food, we had small local places, but the biggest restaurant we had was a Dairy Queen. We didn’t even have a McDonald’s.”

Eleana Campos discovered a love for Chipotle when she moved to Beaumont. UP photo by Aaron Saenz

Freer is two hours south of San Antonio and 9o minutes west of Corpus Christi. Camps said the biggest drawback from living in such a small town was finding something to do.

“The only thing we could do is get in each other’s cars and drive,” she said. “We called it cruising. We would just listen to music and gossip about anything going on. The nearest attractions were a movie theater that was 45 minutes away and the next closest was a mall that was an hour away. My friend group couldn’t make these drives every time we wanted to hang out, so we would have to make do with what we had.”

Having such a small class in high school brought its own complications..

“High school would get tough at times because of how little people there were,” Campos said. “Since it was such a close community, everyone would find out every little detail that was going on in someone’s life. It was hard to go to anyone about your business without being scared that you wouldn’t be the town’s next gossip.”

Once a year, however, Freer’s population skyrockets as visitors from around the state gather for an annual festival.

“The Rattlesnake Round-up was the biggest event we had,’ Campos said. “It was a rodeo, but exclusively for rattlesnakes and people from all around the state. People would come to gather, sell or skin rattlesnakes. This even gave my town the nickname, ‘Home of the Rattlesnakes.’ It was cool because country singers and carnival rides would come to the town. It gave us something to do.”

In Freer, Campos’ world was small and comfortable; she was used to the same routine every day. But when she moved to Beaumont, her whole world was flipped, she said.

“Moving to Beaumont was like getting to a new world,” Campos said. “I went from living in a desert to a swamp in a snap. It was weird knowing that my whole town could live in the dorms. It was scary. I had been used to knowing the same people all my life, and when I came here, I had to adjust to getting to know people again. It was a reset.”

Although it was hard at first, Campos said once she made friends, everything else became easier.

“It’s a good different now,” she said. “The people here are a lot more down to earth, and I’ve made good friends here. People here are a lot more trustworthy, and I don’t have to worry about things I say being spread around. It’s a breath of fresh air.”

Her new friends have introduced her to many new things throughout Beaumont. Her friends were used to having so many choices back in their hometowns, so when she went places with them, she was forced to experience new things.

“I know people don’t think Beaumont is big, but it’s introduced me to so many things,” she said. “The first thing I noticed was how many gas stations there were. There was only one in my town, and I saw five just on the road to the school. Going and getting any kind of food I want is great as well. Most of my mornings, I’ll be at Starbucks getting a coffee and for dinner, I discovered Chipotle. It is my new favorite place to eat. Even going to Target is fun for me, I get to see things at a grocery store that I had to drive an hour for.”

These new experiences have shaped her for the better, Campos said.

“I’m just grateful that Beaumont has introduced so many new things into my life," she said. "Chipotle saved my life.”

Category: Features