I had heard the stereotypes of the brash Texan. You know the Hollywood image: boot, big-buckle, wide-brim wearers convinced their state is the center of the universe, the Eden of God’s creation…who on a second beer launch into a soliloquy of Texas possessing a larger, more impressive version of any landmark or feature anywhere else on the planet. Well, after nearly a year of Lone Star living, I tip my Stetson to the stereotype. Most Texans are indeed convinced to the bottom of their Lucchese boots of the unique and unrivaled beauty of the Great State of Texas. State pride is everywhere here: Lone Stars are plastered on everything from automobiles to ice cream machines. Four foot tall five-points festoon the exteriors of suburban homes. There are more state flags in Texas than grains of sand on Gulf Coast beaches. “Don’t mess with Texas” isn’t just a highway anti-littering slogan, it’s a state motto.
What Texans don’t know is that the strength of Texas is not its uninterrupted, “pretty-ish”-on-the-one-right-week-of-the-year topography. Texas has horrible weather and dizzyingly tall high-rises built to look out over nothing more than unending prairies and smog. Texas, while spread over 1/3 of the continent, has less elevation change than any other Western state. Most of Texas is flat. Flat with grass. Flat with trees. Flat with cactus. Flat with thickets. Do you hear the common denominator? Texans will drive three hours from Houston to spend the weekend in hills, something people in the rest of America only need step outside to find. No, the strength of Texas is not Texas.
The strength of Texas is Texans. Somehow the interminable swath of tedious topography known as Texas bred a new type of human, the Texan. The Texan is as unique as the Texas topography they love is not. Texans are faithful, courageous, confident, resourceful, and gracious. Texans are tough on themselves and hospitable to guests. While they may have earned the reputation for being insufferable about their state, they are humble and self-effacing about their own accomplishments. Texans consider strangers family, give the shirt off their back, and show up for your barn raising. Texans bring Texas sheet cakes the size of Rhode Island to church socials and casseroles to sick neighbors. Texans celebrate your gusher and cry with you when your hole was a bust. Texans know how to play: They know about beer and bourbon, football, fishing, and guns. For Texans, rodeo is something you do and give your kids a day off school for, not a road you buy designer goods at retail on. Texans still go to church and mean it when they say, “God bless you.” I was with a group of Texans at a beer tasting on a church retreat. Seriously. A Texas football team was in the playoffs. Football is a spiritual experience for Texans so, naturally (to them), the game was on the television. When the national anthem began, without a word, every man in the room quit talking and tasting, and turned and faced the flag with hat over heart. Really, they do that in Texas.
To the rest of America I say, trust me, you want an invitation to the home of a Texan or a Texan beside you in a dark alley. You want a Texan as your attorney or banker or shoe shine guy. But when Texans talk about “the great beauty” of Texas, folk from the rest of the country wonder if someone has spiked their mint julep with something more hallucinogenic than bourbon.
After nine months in Texas, do I want to go home? Nope. I’ve begun to feel what many Texans say, “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as quickly as I could.” But not because of Texas, because of Texans. Because of Texans, Texas becomes “home” faster than any place on earth. But the next time a Texan wants you to drive two hours to look at a rock or a hill or the fender of a ’61 Impala that got stuck in an embankment, forward this article to them. They still won’t believe that you have no interest at all in their “landmark” at the end of a torturously long country road, but that you are there because you are honored to spend the day with a Texan.
…And I’ll lay odds they invite you to dinner and try to pick up the tab.