(From left) Abbey, 12, Cade, 8, and Lauren Benavidez, 10, search for animal tracks behind the Benavidez's backyard. Credit: Stephanie Marquez / San Antonio Report

Born in New England but raised and educated in Texas, you could say I am half Yankee and half Y’all. In 1982, a job opportunity with Southwest Research Institute served as the catalyst for my parents to start a new adventure in the South. From that point forward, home would have a new address in the northwest corner of Bexar County.  

My formative years were spent in and around the once quiet historic farming community of Helotes. In the 1980s and early ’90s, Loop 1604 was nothing more than a dark, two-lane highway, and a flashing yellow light near Bandera Road and FM 1560 was the landmark indicating you had arrived at the “Gateway to the Texas Hill Country.” The intersection at Bandera Road and 1604 was nonexistent, and subdivisions now sit on land where many a Marshall High School pasture party took place.

Long gone are the Handy Andy and the Cowboy Bar, now replaced with mainstream retailers such as Dollar Tree and Subway. Thankfully, Helotes staples such as John T. Floore’s Country Store and El Chaparral Mexican Restaurant remain as historic links connecting the past to the present. While both establishments have grown over the years, walk in either one, and that same small-town feel remains. Owners will greet you with a handshake and a smile, and friends embrace you. It is this sense of community that has kept me planted in Helotes even after graduating from Texas Tech University in 1998.

John T. Floore’s Country Store in Helotes

Over the years, my husband and I have owned a couple of homes in the area; however, today, we live in a home we rent in the hills of Helotes. Tucked away on nine acres, the deed to our “farmhouse” is not technically ours, but we love, dream, and take care of the property as if it was. On perfect mornings, the sun rises above the trees and calms my soul before I head to work. In the evening, it serves as a refuge following a chaotic day. The adjacent creek provides our three kids with their own private fishing hole and gives them a place to explore outside, get their hands dirty, and ride bikes without having to navigate streets lined with parked cars and oncoming traffic.

We are welcomed by deer, hogs, wild turkeys, and the occasional coyote. The space allows us to have our own mini farm, which currently consists of rabbits, two dogs, and the three kids. It was once also home to a couple of goats, and I am hopeful to add chickens to the mix  (but mindful of the number of mouths I already feed).

Voted the Best Small Town in Texas to Raise Kids in 2013, Helotes, like many outlying communities, finds itself struggling to preserve its small-town charm amid the constant pressure of urban sprawl. Boundaries that were once clear separations are now very much blurred. Every year it becomes more difficult to see where San Antonio ends and Helotes begins.

As residents, we challenge our leaders to balance continued growth with the need to maintain a family-oriented community that upholds the historic legacies our small town was founded on. When we venture into town, we appreciate access to everyday conveniences such as Walmart and H-E-B Plus. However, with it comes more development, more construction, and more traffic. Some call it progress, others call it pressure.

Over the years, we have contemplated moving to other areas of the city, yet when faced with such a crossroad, we always take pause. Despite the increased congestion on the roads, the creep of the big city moving in, this is our home, our community. It is where precious memories have kept us, and the thought of the future inspires us. It is where our son first tested his mutton bustin’ skills at Cornyval, where we annually watch the Fourth of July fireworks at City Hall, and have witnessed the annual Christmas parade increase from five floats to more than 30. It is where we are members of the local 4-H chapter and where we shop and support local artisans the first Saturday of every month at the Helotes Marketplace in the Old Town historic district.

As for me, I willfully endure the grind of morning and evening rush hour commutes to find solace in the hills. As someone who works downtown, I appreciate the pulse of the ever-changing urban core. I am motivated by the continuous expansion and the increased diversity of what is quickly becoming a new San Antonio. Monday through Friday, I am fortunate to have a front row seat to the innovation and change happening in San Antonio’s city center. 

I have become closer to the playground of politics and am energized by the culture and academia surrounding us. I share these developments with my Hill Country neighbors who often fail to venture outside of their safe Northwest borders. For this, I am thankful. I have a perspective many in my immediate radius do not have. I have come to understand economic segregation in our city does exist, and need is prevalent everywhere – even on our side of town. This I know because I have the daily opportunity to circle San Antonio and see it from all sides.

However, despite these exciting city developments, the country calls me home. Perhaps it is the thought of a more simple way of life that appeals to me. Somewhere in between the rush of the city and the slower pace of the country is where I am most content. For me, Helotes is where I catch my breath.

Regardless of the distance, the constant change, Helotes remains more than a dot on the map for me. It is the place that echoes of my childhood, my adolescence, and now reverberates with a new excitement for my own children. They say home is where the heart is, and for me, my heart is in Helotes.

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Penny Benavidez

Penny Benavidez is the Director of Public Relations for Goodwill San Antonio, a local nonprofit dedicated to elevating individuals with life barriers through education and employment. She is passionate...