My senior year of high school, I dated a boy named Robert. He was an unlikely candidate for the job, actually, but in the weeks preceding our first actual date, wherever I was, he just kept popping up, being awesome. For some time now I have realized that, like Robert so many years ago, Texas has gotten under my skin and has kept popping up, being awesome and now I’m leaving it, my heart is breaking a little.
I wasn’t easy to get, then or now. When we came here 22 years ago, my ex-husband and I told anyone within earshot how superior everything was in our native California. The people smarter, more urbane, the land more beautiful, the Mexican food more authentically Mexican. What was this Tex-Mex, anyway?
Delicious is what we discovered Tex-Mex to be, meat fired over mesquite and wrapped with peppers, onions, and salsa in fresh, warm tortillas. Some of the finest dining I have ever experienced can be found in our big cities, and spicy barbecue readily available in most any neighborhood. Anything scrumptious one might crave is here and you’re welcome for the Tex-Mex twist. But be advised, I believe it is a state law that one must, when making the drive from Dallas to Austin, stop at the Czech Stop in West for kolaches.
I was obnoxious about other things, but I quickly shut up about the food.
For years Charlotte and I complained of the blistering heat in summer until one day, we agreed it wasn’t helping and adopted the Texas way of saying, on a 114 degree day, “My, it did get warm today,” or simply, “Well, it’s August.”
But with Spring came spectacular thunderstorms with lightening crackling through the skies and rains to bring forth the wildflowers: bluebonnets, primroses, thistles, Indian blanket, and fields of sunflowers. Seeing cows grazing in fields lining the highways was at first amusing, then commonplace, and now I am sometimes a little sad when a familiar pasture has been paved over for another unnecessary strip-mall.
My child grew up here, from the kindergartner I placed in a field of bluebonnets along highway 114, to a middle-school spelling bee champion, co-editor of her high school newspaper, and University of Texas, Austin, graduate. I didn’t cry until they sang The Eyes of Texas are Upon You, with raised hook ’em horns.
Maybe what I’m feeling, on the brink of departure, is simply the attachment any parent feels for the place one raised one’s child. Almost every memory I have of Charlotte comes complete with a big ol’ chunk of Texas: the State Fair under a Remington sky of turquoise, eggshell, and pastel pinks; bluebonnets the color of her eyes; the day we ran through a parking lot in pouring rain and drenched to the skin, collapsed in unstoppable giggles in the car; breakfast at Kerby Lane or burgers in a dive bar in Austin; Sea World, the Alamo, and the rope swing on the old oak in front of our house. The charm and acceptance of people who overlooked my ignorance, and waited for me to open my eyes and see.
Grown and on her own, Charlotte wasted little time in getting out of Texas, but recently admitted to me she misses it. While teaching English in South Korea, Charlotte showed her fellow ex-pat teachers (Brits, Canadians, South Africans and Aussies) King of the Hill in an attempt to explain “my people”. She summed it neatly for me, “Texas has such character“.
Texas, you were an awesome boyfriend and I took you for granted a long, long time. I’ll take some of that Texas pride and character with me when I go, and I will try not to compare South Carolina too unfavorably with you, because the best gift Texas ever gave me is being open to people and places just popping up and being awesome.