Monday, October 05, 2009

Flashback to Summer, and being a Texan

My friend the Hysteric Cleric posted on Facebook an article Molly Ivins wrote about Texas. That made me remember that this summer, on the road to New Mexico, I'd scribbled some stuff. So here it is.

Saturday, June 27, 2009 3:02 pm

We are in the panhandle of Texas. We left our house at 6:15 am. Planned on stopping at an interesting cafĂ© in Fort Worth, but we made such good time, we weren’t yet in the mood for lunch. Went a little further, til we go to Decatur and saw a Chicken Express. Loaded up on their marinated chicken strips and fried okra and ate it on the road.

Every person I’ve met who was a kid in south or coastal Texas has memories of road trips that always began with the first day of travel being get out of Texas. You drive and drive and drive, and you’re still in Texas.

My parents were – and are – frugal. When we took a vacation, we’d get up early in the morning and hit the road. I can see Mom, once we got out on the highway, carefully holding mugs over the floor in front of her feet, leaning over to pour hot coffee for her and Daddy. At lunch time, we’d stop at a rest area, and Mama would pull out a red and white flannel-backed vinyl tablecloth and we’d sit at a table eating pimento cheese sandwiches from the cooler and maybe some potato chips.

This morning, The Husband and I stopped at Starbucks first thing, then picked up the fried chicken. We need to take a page from my parents’ book.

It’s funny, the things that you remember as a kid. Comic books and chocolate pop-tarts. Those are two of the things I remember. Junk food for the brain and tummy, and the only time they were allowed was on vacation. They’d let me get a couple of comic books to take in the car – I usually chose Archie or Richie Rich. And we always stayed at a kitchenette, so we didn’t have to eat out. The kitchenettes would usually have a toaster (we didn’t have one at home), and Mom would let me have a box of pop-tarts.

We passed through a little town here a ways back, and in the parking lot of a used car dealership, there was a big tarp set up, with people sitting in folding chairs underneath. A big banner identified it: “Holy Ghost Revival.” I begged The Husband to turn around and go back, but he wouldn’t.

Texas Culture is written deeply in my soul. And I mean real Texas culture.

George W. Bush. Not a real Texan.

On my mother’s side, generation after generation were Texans, on back to the Texas Republic. Real Texas culture is very egalitarian because living out in the west, you didn’t have the clear cut definitions between what was women’s work and what was men’s work. Ranching and farming required the whole family. More recently, during the Depression, it took everyone’s help just to survive. My great-grandmother took in boarders, during WWII, my grandfather helped build the POW camps.

I don’t mean to romanticize. There was some ugly stuff about the early Texans, especially the Texas Rangers, and what they’d do in Mexico. Or the origin of Juneteenth.

I don’t say that I’m “proud” to be a Texan, anymore than I’m ashamed to be a Texan. It simply is a big part of who I am. It’s in the stories I heard, growing up. It’s in the food that I eat. It’s in my heroes, like Molly Ivins, Liz Carpenter, Ann Richards. It’s in the fact that for me, the plural of “you” is “y’all.” And paying for AAA, which I do, is really kind of silly, because everyone knows that if you get a flat, there’ll be a big pickup coming along in just a few minutes filled with three good ole boys who’ll get your tire changed r’at away. And with an “it was our pleasure, ma’am,” they’ll be gone.

Don’t be fooled by the Rick Perrys of my state. Sure, there’s provincial knuckle-heads in my state. I have yet to find a state that is knuckle-head free.

We are further in the panhandle now. Every here and there, you see a house out on the prairie, ringed with trees to protect it from the constant dust storms.

I haven’t seen the camels yet.

Many a traveler through here has done double and triple takes, as they’ve spotted, amongst the cattle ranches, a herd of camels grazing. They’re wild camels. No, really. Several decades ago, some one got the bright idea of bringing camels over. Similar climate and all, thought they might work better than horses or burros.

Well, it turns out that though camels are real good at carrying their own water, they just stink at herding cows. The cowboys probably found them less comfortable than their ponies, too. So they were left to fend for themselves, and did okay at it, mating and continuing on just fine. So every now and then, you’ll see them wandering around.

One of the things that’s kinda interesting about Texas is the West-East difference. See, if you’re in East Texas, you’re in the South. Accents are more akin to Mississippi – the food and attitudes, too. Nothing spicy here, but you’ll have collard greens and black-eyed peas, cornbread, and hominy grits. Boiled peanuts. Cotillions and southern belles.

West Texas, well, now, you’re in the West. Cowboys and cowgirls, honky-tonks and Mexican food. Tex-Mex.

My dad sums it up well. He said that you could always tell if someone was from East Texas or West Texas by asking what they did with the hog’s head. East Texas, they made souse, also called hog’s-head cheese. West Texas, they made tamales.

Seems to me, West Texas was always a lot more “live and let live.” In the piney woods of East Texas, you had more racism – racism against anyone not white. Black, Mexican, “other.”

West Texas, people were more spread out and there was more of a need for everyone’s help. My second-cousin, a grizzled, crusty and shy old fellow, was a cowboy, and it was from working ranches with other cowboys that he learned how to cook cabrito, mountain oysters, and sugar pickled onions. The other ranch hands were Mexican, black, white. And I am not oversimplifying when I tell you that when you see a bunch of 60 year old cowboys, who have worked out in the hot sun their whole lives, they all pretty much look to be the same race.

We’re in Amarillo now. Been seeing the billboards for the last three hours advertising the big ole tourist trap steakhouse. Literally three hours plus. The signs will tell you, “Three Hours to the Big Texan! Tour buses welcome!”

We’ll pass. We ain’t tourists.


hysteric cleric said...

Yes. That's right. Testify, sister.

Related to the flat tires: one of my favorite Texas habits is that when on a two-lane road w/ wide shoulders - there's lots of 'em in Texas - if someone's driving 60, and I pull up behind them doing 65, 4 times out of 5 they'll pull over to the shoulder and let me pass.

I often hear non-natives who've moved to Dallas, Houston, or Austin complain that "Texans" are rude drivers. The people who drive so aggressively...are non-natives who've moved to Dallas, Houston, or Austin. If you want to see true courteous driving, get off the Interstates and go to someplace like Nacogdoches, Victoria, or Lubbock. Those roads are where you see the real character of this state and its people.

kimc said...

well, you can tell I'm a Californian. When our family went for a drive when I was a kid, my mother would hand around slices of apple, walnut meats, and cheese. We loved it. (Funny, I don't remember drinking anything with this. I'll have to ask my sister. It was probably lemonade, homemade.)