THE FOUR OF US REMINISCE ABOUT TEXAS
We didn't have very much in common, the four of us. We worked in different occupations, lived in different sections of the city, enjoyed our leisure time in different ways. We hadn't even been well-acquainted at the beginning of the evening.
We eventually found a topic of conversation in which we could all share that evening: How it felt to be an expatriate Texan.
There's something about growing up in Texas that fills a person with a sense of pride grander than just about anything else. We think our state is the biggest (everyone knows that someday Alaska's gonna thaw down to a land mass the size of Delaware), best (no proof needed), most exciting (see John Wayne movies for details) place to be. Each of the four of us had plenty of experience representing Texas to the uninitiated from other parts of the world.
Leslie recalled that, during a half-year of studies in Europe, she had shown her passport several times simply to validate her Texan birthright. (She doesn't speak with a real Texas drawl.)
Gabe had amused himself at Atlanta cocktail parties and business lunches five years ago by telling strangers that he'd grown up riding a horse to school, that he had practiced driving by zipping around the oil wells in his backyard. He beamed, "I'd just mention Houston and they'd think 'tumbleweeds'!"
During his traveling salesman days touring the Southwest, nostalgia for his Austin home had struck Robert whenever he saw bluebonnets, even painted ones. "Isn't that silly?" he blushed. We all shook our heads that it wasn't at all.
Remembering college in Missouri, where I was thrown together with women from all over the country, I realized how familiar these tales must sound to any Texan who had lived away from home. I added my own set of memories to the story session that night.
In the spring of 1976, just about the time they'd be seeing new wildflowers in the Hill Country, I was gazing out of my dorm window at old, dirty Missouri snow. I was tired of winter -- we'd never had more than a month or two of it at home -- and I wanted to be in San Antonio planning for Fiesta. Why had I chosen Stephens College over the University of Texas?
When my English professor assigned an essay styled after Mark Twain's ruminations on the Mississippi River, the following paragraphs practically wrote themselves. (The four of us agreed that the events and slang were a little outdated, but the memories rang true.)
HILL COUNTRY SPRING 1976 (apologies to Mark Twain)
"Once every few months, a raunchy but refined-looking cowboy type arrives from over somewhere west of Austin, Texas, and another, more raunchy and less refined, downward from Nashville. In between these arrivals, Austin is its normal cosmic cowboy self, just laying back; immediately after them, the record stores are alive and buzzing. Not only the host, the Armadillo World Headquarters, but the whole central portion of Texas feels this. After three months of being away from the scene I can see Austin now, just as I used to from San Antonio then: Bexar, Travis, and other surrounding counties mellowing in the sunshine and scrub oak that are Texas' fame; the University of Texas its normal 40,000-plus population, maybe less on the duller weekends; several of the usual peddlers strolling the Drag, with their baskets leaned against the buildings, straggly hair and beards covering any traces of identity, asking you to buy or contribute, obnoxious -- with junk enough to repel even the gaudiest customer; a brother and his litter of ladies, doing a goodly business in drug-based and sexual pleasures; two or three lonely custodians sweeping out the Armadillo; a line of people forming outside the ticket window, fragrant with the stench of old beer, pot and whatever else turns them on, waiting for the evening's show; announcements over the radio stations of the coming events, but nobody listening to the polished voices giving an already too-late message of "Head to Austin..."; Lake Austin, peaceful, sailboat-laden Lake Austin, with its occasional Lone Star Beer-can buoys, reflecting that good ol' Texas sunshine; the rolling Hill Country surrounding it on all sides: Liberty Hill above it, and San Antonio below, straddling the 150-plus miles and turning the area into a sort of cult district, and withal an isolation but openness to "get with it."
"Presently, two caravans of trailers and Cadillacs appear, one from the west and one from the north, not to mention the lesser ones from other directions with not-so-precious cargoes; instantly the authoritative roadies, famous for their obnoxious voices (Testing, One, Two) and nimble fingers, lift up the cry, "Where in the hell are those #%@&ing rolls of wire and duct tape? No, he can't set up there!" and Austin comes alive! The UT students stir, Drag peddlers close down, hundreds of cars and other vehicles get their engines moving, every dorm and commune pours out humans like cement, and the former meat packing plant known as the Armadillo is alive and hustling. Men, women, boys, girls and everything between and beyond all scurry to the ice houses and liquor stores in search of a common prize, Lone Star longnecks. Arriving and assembling en masse at the Armadillo, people and freaks fasten their eyes upon Jerry Jeff Walker and Willie Nelson appearing together, as upon an exalted wonder never before so revered."
After the tale was told, the four of us didn't say a word. We didn't have to: We already knew the sentiments by heart. We were glad to be home.
Dallas writer Betsy Thaggard is one of twelve authors featured inThe Children of This World (Born-Hawes Ltd, New York), a collection of Texas fiction and poetry to be published in the spring. She is also a contributing editor at XTRA magazine.