I’ll never forget the feeling of disappointment that Texans felt when Alaska became a state. The home of the Alamo known as the Lone Star state had reigned as the largest in the nation, a distinction that it not so secretly enjoyed, only to be toppled by a faraway newcomer. Suddenly our second place status stole some of our bragging rights and mostly silenced our boasts about the enormity of our home. Still, anyone who has ever travelled from El Paso to Orange not only understands the daunting distance of such a drive but has seen the dramatic changes in the landscape that lie along the highway. Texas is a place of incredible diversity and describing it in a few words is almost impossible.
I’ve been as far west and as far east as one might go in Texas. I’ve seen the plains of the north and the deserts of the south. I’ve observed the people in both small towns and large cities. I’ve come to realize that there is no one size fits all representation of the diversity of my state which in some ways is a microcosm of the world at large. I would be hard pressed to choose one place or area that might serve as the essence of all that is Texan.
The hill country around San Antonio and Austin certainly might be the heart of Texas. Those cities after all are fairly close to being at the center of the state and as the home of the Alamo and the capitol they can lay claim to historical and political importance. Both places also lie a rather lovely area of the state with majestic vistas and an old west feel. They are in the part of the state that most closely complies with the imagery of Texas and Texans that most outsiders have when they conjure thoughts of this far more complex place. Certainly the progressives, intellectuals and artisans of Austin are a great deal different from the refinery workers of the blue collar town of Port Arthur, but they both call themselves Texans.
I suspect that if I were to ask citizens in all of the other forty nine states to name one Texas city, they most often would mention Dallas. If I were to require them to describe Dallas they might speak of wealthy cattle and oil barons living on ranches with names like South Fork. Television has a way of fixing ideas in our mind that often wander far from actual reality. The real Dallas is a modern metropolitan wonder with congested freeways, skyscrapers and malls filled with everyday people who look and act little differently than their counterparts in Los Angeles.
The Gulf Coast of Texas is yet another area unlike the stereotypical visions of the state. It is a place of worldwide commerce, meandering bayous, rapidly changing weather and an amalgam of cultures and cuisine. It is a magnet for beach bums and innovators alike. It has evolved over time from a strange mix of ideas that created a kind of crazy quilt that can’t be easily defined. It is friendly and welcoming and generally nonjudgemental, a place where it seems possible to accomplish the impossible and where rocket scientists dream big alongside welders.
Then there is the far west of Texas that is home to miles and miles of farms and ranches that stretch so far into the distance that they appear to be endless. It is a lonely place of wide open spaces, an area where one might find solace in getting away from the rat race of the modern world. It is wild and requires toughness to withstand. Out west humans compete with the harshness of nature under a sky perennially filled with stars. It is one of the last outposts of a way of life that pioneered the expansion of the United States. It is mankind in competition with the elements and in tune with the wonders of the earth. It is a place of both harmony and dissonance, verdant farms and drought ridden ghost towns. It is a place of peacefulness and one that requires toughness and determination to survive.
Texas is a grand state of unimaginable size and diversity and each March with the regularity of the clock it bursts alive with the colors of wildflowers, most notably the bluebonnets. Near Chappell Hill and Brenham the lovely indigo colored blooms create beautiful carpets in fields and along the sides of the roads. The people of Houston drive from the business of the city to enjoy the sight of the lovely buds that seem to embody all that is best about Texas. I wonder if there is any other state in which its citizens are so taken by the annual flowering of the countryside. For those of us in Texas venturing forth to observe the bluebonnets in all of their glory is a pilgrimage that must not be missed in the spring.
The small towns that host the visitors fire up their pits and roast briskets and sausages that have a distinctly Texas flavor. They offer blueberry pies and fruit kolaches for the hungry travelers, made from recipes handed down from one generation of Texans to another. In a beloved creamery there is ice cream unlike any that is made in other parts of the world. It melts sweetly on the tongue and says, “I am in Texas,” in a sensory way that must be experienced to understand. There are crafts and antiques to view along with Mother Nature’s finery. It is a festival of Texas culture that warms the heart and brings out smiles on even the grumpiest faces. It is a not to be missed tradition.
I’m a Texan through and through, but I am only one variety of the remarkable citizens of our state. Our ancestors came here from the world over, all hoping for an opportunity to live better lives than in the places from whence they came. Many dreams have been realized here and even today Texas is growing in population by leaps and bounds simply because even the commonest person has a chance to succeed with just a bit of imagination and a willingness to work hard.
Texas still has relatively inexpensive land and a variety of jobs. It lives up to its name as a welcoming place. Its monicker comes from the Spanish word “tejas” which means “friend.” We do our best to be an inviting host and we don’t mind at all if someone decides that they would like to tarry long enough to make our state a home. My husband’s kin came from Georgia and England. Mine were from Virginia, Kentucky and Slovakia. We embrace neighbors from Mexico, South America, Vietnam, Germany, Russia, Nigeria, and all across the globe. Texas is a regular United Nations with a distinctly open and friendly nature. It is a one of a kind creation of many minds and ways of living. It is a place quick to shout, “Howdy!” It is my home.