Recently, while perusing the gift shop area at a Buccees on I-10 between San Antonio and Houston, I found myself surrounded by Texas paraphernalia: earrings in the shape of longhorn steers, bluebonnet shaped magnets, bronze Texas star yard art (every block in Texas is required to make sure at least one house has one of these over the garage door. It’s a law, I am pretty sure. On my block, it’s the neighbor two doors down).
I attended my first rodeo a couple of weeks ago. I was pretty nervous, afraid the animals would be mistreated (they weren’t) or that the country music concert would grate on my ears (it didn’t). The animals were beautiful, the horsemanship phenomenal, and Little Big Town put on a hell of a show. I didn’t dress any differently than I normally do, and I wondered if people would stare at my bootless, hatless self and banish me from the grounds for not being a true Texan. But for every bona fide cowboy or cowgirl whose boots and jeans looked authentically worn, there was someone in spanking new Wranglers and fringe looking like an extra from a movie about a dude ranch, and for every one of them, there was someone like me- in soft pastel jeans or hipster skinnys or urban baggys. There were as many Toms, Converse, and Nikes as Justins and Tony Lamas.
I come from a long line of Texans. Though I was not born here because my Texan parents were temporarily living in Tennessee where my daddy got his first post-college job, I have been here since I was three, all of my memories are of living in Texas. I love my state (though it’s become a little harder lately, not sure if that’s because the politics keep shifting to the right or because I have just leaned a little more to the left), but there are assumptions that folks have about Texans that I would like to set straight:
We don’t all wear cowgirl boots.
We don’t all listen to country music.
We don’t all own guns and/or horses.
We are a pretty famous place. I guess it’s because of so many western movies, maybe our performers like Beyonce and Matthew McConnaughey. Or maybe it’s because of George W. Bush. Being President during the 9/11 attacks makes you a household name, like Churchill or Roosevelt from WWII. When my daughter, who lives in Australia, mentions where she’s from, she’s always quizzed about all sorts of “Texasisms”
My youngest daughter’s Australian boyfriend is in Vietnam, and he just sent us a photo of a fast food joint called Texas Chicken. Basically, it was the logo from Church’s Chicken.
You can be a Texas girl without wearing cowgirl boots and listening to country music.
What we do do:
1. Love bluebonnets and have requisite bluebonnet photos: Right now is the time of year when driving on a Texas highway you’ll see families pulled over with their little ones squatting in the fields of bluebonnets. We all have these photos, except for the poor folks who live out in the panhandle. Bluebonnets don’t grow out there. Their kids take photos with tumbleweeds.
2. Most of us own at least one piece of James Avery jewelry: I actually own two charm bracelets (one for theatre keepsakes and one for family), an angel bracelet, a necklace, and a ring. My eldest daughter has just one ring and a charm bracelet, and my younger daughter has at least three rings, a charm bracelet, and a necklace. She jokes that all sorority girls are required to have at least one piece. I sort of took the ubiquity of James Avery for granted, until a recent trip to Arizona. While there, I received frequent questions and compliments about my jewelry. A Texas silversmith out of the hill country, James Avery makes beautiful stuff that has a distinct Texas aesthetic. I love mine.
3. We always clap four times when someone sings “The stars at night are big and bright…” Do you remember, in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” when Pee Wee proves he’s in Texas by singing the opening lyric and everyone on the street stops and finishes the line? That really happens here. It’s ingrained in us starting in our early education classes. However, on rare occasions, it flops. Recently I was in San Antonio for the state music teachers convention, having a drink at Durty Nellie’s Irish Pub. The piano player, knowing the room was full of music teachers, started the song. “The starts at night are big and bright…” Nothing. I think the music teachers needed a break.
4. Use the words “fixin’ to” and “y’all”: These are the best words ever coined by Texans. When a Texan visits a place for any length of time, the people around her will, without realizing it, adopt these words. Especially “y’all.” It is the perfect pronoun for a group of people. Inclusive and succinct. Gender neutral and much more pleasant than “you guys,” it works in any situation. “Fixin’ to” is what we say instead of “about to.” I don’t really know why, but I do know I like it better.
5. We all know where to find our area’s best chicken fried steak: In my case, it’s either Mel’s Diner or Goodson’s Cafe, both in Tomball. Both of these restaurants bring enormous crispy steaks out, swimming in cream gravy. You never want to finish the whole thing, lest your rump get as big as the Texas panhandle.
6. Texans have big open hearts to match our state’s big open spaces: Once you get out of our sprawling cities and suburbs, Texas is full of vast open scenery of all sorts- piney woods, beaches, desert mountains, dusty plains, and grassy prairies. It’s breathtaking, really. Equally so? Our kind hearts. Texans love to help folks out- whether it’s with food for the hungry, care for animals, or hugs for suffering kids, we just can’t bear to walk away when someone needs us.
But I don’t think that’s uniquely Texan. One of the traits that ties us all together, whether in Texas or Minnesota or India or China, is that people love to help each other. It’s how most of us are wired.
So whether you wear a cowboy hat, sombrero, or beret, look around today. Appreciate your home’s flora, music, and customs. Love your neighbors. And y’all come visit us here in Texas. We’ll feed you chicken fried steak!