Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving held first in Texas, circa 1598

In Texas, Thanksgiving could very well be observed with a little paella in addition to the turkey.

The first Thanksgiving in America was celebrated in Texas by Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate on April 30, 1598.

I’m not trying to take away from the one held in New England in 1621. I’m just showing you a little bit of Texas history that should not be forgotten.

A couple of little factoids about Oñate: he was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, among the first of the Oñates to be able to claim Mexican heritage. He married Isabel de Tolosa Cortes Moctezuma, granddaughter of Hernando Cortes and great-granddaughter of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma Xocoyotzin.

Oñate came from an old Spanish family with connections in the court of King Phillip II of Spain. He was commanded by the king to colonize the upper Rio Grande valley previously explored by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján in 1540. Arriving in 1598, Oñate claimed the area at the spot where Ciudad Juárez–El Paso is now...and all of New Mexico too. April 30, 1598 was the feast day of the Ascension. In a makeshift church, the Te Deum was sung and Franciscan priests celebrated a solemn high Mass. Then “La Toma,” the formal ceremony of claiming new land, was observed. Supposedly, the Spanish army rode into formation on horseback in full armor and Oñate stepped forward to read the official proclamation.

“In the name of the most Holy Trinity…I take possession of this whole land this April 30, 1598, in honor of Our Lord Jesus Christ on this day of the Ascension of Our Lord…”

Historical accounts say that after the Thanksgiving Mass, the priests blessed a feast of fish, ducks, cranes and geese for a party of 600 Spanish soldiers and colonists. The rest of the day was spent in competitive games and theatrical entertainments.

Sounds a little like the way we observe Thanksgiving now, except for claiming chunks of land in the names of foreign kingdoms. Not much of that going on these days without some serious consequences.

All this history got me to thinking. It might be kind of fun to introduce some Spanish flavor into the tradition Thanksgiving meal. Paella is a rice dish that is actually more identified with Valencia than Spain as a whole. It’s made of white rice, green vegetables, meat, snails, beans and seasoning. It might be a pretty good complement to turkey. If snails aren’t your thing, you can do seafood paella, replacing the meat, snails, green veggies and beans with seafood.

In honor of Oñate, I’m contemplating planting a flag in my neighbor’s yard and claiming it as my own for the day with a battle of water balloons ensuing and the loser having to do yard work all next summer.

Or not.

I will certainly enjoy a feast of native fowl (turkey) and then spend the day watching competitive games (football) and theatrical entertainment (endless Christmas television specials).

I’ll invite way less than 600 guests though. One has to draw the line somewhere.

As for the paella, I’ve never made it, so we can explore this recipe together. If you make it, let me know how it goes.

Simple Paella
• Serves: 6-8
• Difficulty: Intermediate
• Preparation time: 60-90 minutes
• 1/2 pint of olive oil
• 2 cups of rice
• 5 cups of fish broth
• 1/2 lb. of shrimp
• 2 mid-sized squids, sliced
• 2 lb. of mussels or clams
• 1 green pepper, diced
• 1 red pepper
• 1 small can of peas
• 1 small onion
• 2 tomatoes
• Saffron
• 1 clove of garlic
• Parsley
• Salt


Heat half of the oil and, once warm, add the chopped onion. After 5 minutes, add diced tomatoes, without seeds and peeled. Let it braise about 5 minutes more, mashing the tomatoes with a skimmer. Drain excess oil.

In a pot, begin to cook in cold water the shells of the shrimp, reserving the tails. In another ladle cook the mussels with little water (well washed before with water and salt). As soon as the shells open up, take them away and take off the half that doesn't have the bug, reserving the other halves and straining for a very fine strainer the broth where they have cooked, as well as that of the waste of the shrimp.

Add the rest of the oil to the paella pan. Add the diced green pepper. Add the squid and the rice. Keep stirring with a wooden tablespoon, without letting it go brown. Add salt and the fish broth, hot but not boiling. Shake the paella pan so that it is broth is evenly distributed. Cook over medium heat.

Meanwhile, mash a little bit of garlic, the parsley and the saffron, with a little bit of salt, and add a couple of tablespoons of water. Sprinkle this mixture on the rice and shake the paella pan. Add the shrimp tails and when the broth has reduced to the half, add red pepper, mussels and peas.

Let it cook about 20 minutes.

Once the rice is cooked and the broth has reduced, remove the paella pan from the heat and let it set about 5 minutes.

Garnish with lemon slices.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

You say it…how?

Years ago, when I worked as a news producer for the NBC affiliate KETK in Tyler, our weather anchor made a massive blunder on the air.

He mispronounced “Mexia” during the weather segment.

Big deal, you’re thinking. It’s simple, right? Mexia is pronounced “Mex-ee-ah.”

No, it ain’t, mis amigos.

The phones in the newsroom rang constantly for about an hour after that.

“Tell that Yankee it’s pronounced ‘Muh-HAY-uh,’” one caller said.

I can’t repeat what other callers said because what they said was more colorful than what I allow for print in this blog.

By virtue of the butchering of the city’s name, the poor fella was almost the guest of honor at a necktie party hosted by our viewers.

My friend, Heather got a public correcting for the same mistake in the newsroom of The Waco Tribune-Herald when she worked there.

“You want me to drive to ‘Mex-ee-ah’ for a story?” she said out loud.

You’d have thought she insulted somebody’s mama from the way she described the reactions of her fellow reporters.

Everything is different in Texas, including the way we pronounce the names of our towns and landmarks. I’m letting you know now so you don’t get blasted between the eyes for an innocent verbal mistake. Your logic in saying a name as it reads is not wrong. Not at all. But, bless your heart, we’ll know you’re not a Texan if you mess it up out loud and we’ll be vociferous in letting you know you boofed it big time.

To alleviate some of the confusion, here are the highlights of names that are not pronounced as they read:
Pedernales is “Purd-nallas,” Humble is “Umbul.” Boerne is “Burney,” Gruene is “Green,” New Braunfels is New “Brawn-fulls” NOT New “Brawns-full.” Even Texans get that one wrong once in awhile, so don’t feel bad if you booger it up.

The Village of Salado is “Suh-LAY-doe,” unless you’re in San Antonio and talking about the creek that runs through part of the city. Then it’s “Suh-LAH-do.”

San Jacinto is San “Juh-sinnah,” Nacogdoches is “Nacka-DOE-chus,” Waxahachie is “Wox-uh-HATCH-ee” and it’s so hard to spell that most state troopers will let you get all the way to Waco first before pulling you over and writing you a ticket.

Palestine is “Pali-STEEN” not “Pali-STYNE.” That town is in East Texas and they’ll land on you like a B-17 if you don’t say it right.

Houston is actually “YOU-stun” if you’re from Houston. If you’re not from Houston, you can say it as it reads with the “H” and everyone will know you are not from Houston which, especially in Texas, is not a bad thing at all.

Confused? Ah well…hang in there.

When in doubt about how to say a Texas town’s name, just ask, “How do you say that?” and everybody will be grateful to you for trying to get it right the first time.

At this point, I must make mention of Killeen. I want to know this: if you move away from Killeen after having been considered a resident of Killeen, does that make you a Killeen-Ex?

I love that joke. I made that up myself. Thanks for indulging me. Let’s get back on track.

Mexia has a good attitude about the whole thing. The chamber of commerce Web site at even makes light of it with the slogan, “Mexia: a great place no matter how you say it” which tells you Texans really are pretty good natured about the whole thing.

Perhaps my favorite anecdote about Mexia is the one about the two traveling salesmen who were driving along Highway 84 and arguing about the pronunciation of the town’s name. When they stopped at a Mexia restaurant, they asked the waitress, “Miss, can you tell us the name of this place?”

In true Texas fashion, she looked at the two men like they were bug nuts crazy and said, “Dairy Queen.”

Monday, October 31, 2011

Texas monsters, mysteries, repairmen investigated, revealed

Jackalopes have been a fixture of Texas mythos for as long as I can remember. So too have monsters such as El Chupacabra and unexplained phenomena such as the Marfa Lights. I had to know if the tales of my childhood were real, so in honor of All Hallow’s Eve when things go bump in the night, I went in search of Texas cryptids.

The jackalope is a giant jackrabbit with antlers. It is said to roam free in the Texas wilderness, in search of what, I don’t know, but I’m guessing it’s looking for giant carrots or to settle a score with Elmer Fudd.

I did an Internet search of jackalopes and learned that rabbits occasionally suffer from something called Shope’s papilloma virus, which causes horned tumors around their skulls and faces. It is believed that rabbits with Shope’s might have been the catalyst for the jackalope legend.

I don’t recommend you do an image search. The photos I found were enough to gag a buzzard off a gut wagon.

The jackalope is real. Sort of. In a round-about, weird, disease-pathology kind of way. They aren’t the large, lumbering, wild-eyed killer beasts of Texas lore. But they’re certainly something to behold. And the jackrabbit that lives near the III Corps headquarters at Fort Hood is worth writing about based on his sheer size. I have seen him hopping across the lawn outside the newsroom window and, from what I can see, he’s not somebody to mess with in the parking lot after dark.

El Chupacabra has been around as long as I can remember. We don’t really know what it is, but we know what it does, based on the bloodless remains of goats and other farm animals the thing allegedly has attacked. “Chupacabra” literally translates from Spanish to English as “goat sucker.”

I think it’s more likely to be a mix between a pit bull terrier and a Texas divorce lawyer, but then that combination is less crossbreeding than it is inbreeding.

There have been reports that El Chupacabra has been discovered; that it is indeed the hybrid offspring of a canid creature and…something. There’s photographic evidence of something that looks more like a giant shaved rat. But is it the real thing? I’m not gonna sit out on a South Texas pasture to find out, that’s for sure.

When I lived in Dallas, there was the legend of the Goat Man of White Rock Lake.

Supposedly, the Goat Man is 7-feet tall, hairy, stands upright and sports the horns and hooves of a goat. He likes to throw things at people to drive them off his feeding grounds. No one has ever said on what the Goat Man feeds. I’m guessing fish, since White Rock Lake is known for its crappie and bass.

From the description, he sounds more like a University of North Texas art major. At any rate, I never saw him the entire decade I lived there, but apparently he got over to Lake Worth a time or two, since a similar monster has been seen there. At any rate, he might want to watch out for El Chupacabra.

Of the natural phenomena in Texas, the Marfa Lights, or Marfa Ghost Lights, are the most famous.

For more than 100 years, folks have seen something strange about nine miles east of Marfa. The lights have been described as fireworks without the smoke or sound.

Scientists have tried to explain them. Some folks believe they’re UFOs. Others think they’re the spirits of the Apaches wandering the Chinati Mountains. The city of Marfa simply acknowledges the lights with a festival every Labor Day weekend. I guess if you can’t explain it, celebrate it.

Cryptids and little green men notwithstanding, some folks are more concerned with the native Texas critters that have been documented as real.

Tim Swaggerty, an acquaintance of mine, was a park ranger at Lake Arrowhead State Park near Wichita Falls for a time. While there, he was quizzed by some visitors from Scotland about prairie dogs.

“Are they dangerous?” one of the tourists asked in a thick Scots brogue.

“Umm…well, they’ve been known to carry plague because they’re rodents, essentially. But immediately dangerous? Not really,” Swaggerty said.

“Rodents, ye say?” the other tourist responded. “Oh! Glad tae hear that! We envisioned packs of ravenous dogs roaming the Texas prairie! We were fearin’ frae our lives!”

Swaggerty assured the Scottish visitors the most they had to worry about with regard to prairie dogs was stepping in a hole and wrenching an ankle.

Texas also is known for its bats. Austin is home to Mexican free-tailed bats, particularly at the Congress Street Bridge. The best time to see them is in the spring and summer. If you go to see the bats, you’ll want to stand back a bit from their flight path. The bats aren’t particular where they relieve themselves and you might come home with a souvenir you really didn’t want.

Real or myth, cryptids capture our imaginations, and I, too, have personally witnessed the existence of a hitherto myth right here in Central Texas. Last June, my air conditioning died. I called a repairman who actually showed up when he said he would and fixed my A/C correctly the first time for the price originally quoted to me.

I know. I couldn’t believe it, either.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Understanding the Texas sense of humor, practical jokes

We Texans think life—and everyone in it--is funny.

We spend a good deal of time making as much fun of everyday living as we do making fun of ourselves.

I heard someone describe it as “American sarcasm” and I want to clear that mistake up right now. Sarcasm is defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain.” Often people mistake sarcasm for wit. While sarcasm generally is witty, wit is not always sarcastic. This is the great humor tautology. Sarcasm can figure into the humor equation, but it is not the sole ingredient in humor, and that’s true of Texas humor, too.

Not everybody gets Texas humor. Sometimes it borders on the bizarre. I admit that. Even though I was born into the culture, I really didn’t see what was so funny about the time my father rigged my car’s engine to smoke and whine when I started it. He thought it was hilarious.

Daddy loved April Fools Day. Every April 1, he’d booby-trap his secretary’s desk with rubber snakes and cockroaches. He stopped short of fake dog poop. That wasn’t classy. Carol stayed his secretary for 18 years. I guess she thought it was funny.

I mentioned sarcasm earlier. The sarcasm in Texas humor usually pokes fun at those who need to be taken down off their high horses a notch.

One of my favorite jokes is that of the farmer being inspected by an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector. The farmer gives the man the go-ahead to look anywhere he wants except for one pasture.

“Sir,” said the OSHA inspector haughtily. “I am an OSHA inspector. See this ID card? It entitles me to be anywhere I want to be during an inspection.”

“That’s fine, but I’m telling you that you really don’t want to go into that pasture,” the farmer said.

“I will go where I need to go and no one can tell me I can’t,” the inspector replied.
Pretty soon, the farmer heard a mighty commotion coming from that pasture. He saw the OSHA inspector being chased by his dairy bull.

“Help! Help me!” cried the OSHA inspector. “Stop this bull!”

“Just show him your ID card!” the farmer hollered back.

That is a prime example of Texas humor, and it was probably based on an actual event.

Another first class example of Texas humor is the fact many of us seriously supported singer/songwriter Richard “Kinky” Friedman for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

I said “seriously” supported, but this is Texas after all.

Campaign slogans for Friedman’s run for the governorship included, “Kinky: Why the (heck) not?” and “My governor is a Jewish cowboy.”

Umm…yep. That’s Texas humor in a (pecan) nutshell.

I’d like to point out at this point that I see the humor in the fact that the word “gubernatorial” begins with “goober.”

And I admit that I voted for Kinky. After all, Carol Keeton Strayhorn Rylander Hampton Laverty Oberlander had all her ex-husbands to vote for her and she didn’t need me. And we ended up sending Rick Perry right back to Austin. I'm not entirely sure Kinky was serious, but it was fun while it lasted.

Speaking of nuts, I was at one of the multitude of pecan shops along our Texas highways when I overheard a woman from another state remark about all the delicious “PEE-cans” in Texas. In Texas, we say “puh-CAN.” But from her it was “PEE-can” this and “PEE-can” that, and I had to save her from embarrassment. After all, she was a guest in our fair state and I wanted to make sure she had a pleasant stay. So I told her ever so gently, in hushed, gracious tones, “Hey lady! A PEE-can is a chamber pot!”

Are ya with me so far?

My friend Kristin Molinaro likens Texas humor to the prickly pear cactus. It’s well-rounded and dry on the outside, while holding a lot of water on the inside.

Sometimes it can be sharp. It shows up in places you’d least expect. And if you’re not careful where you walk, it will take you out at the knees.

I’d have to agree. Take, for example, our Texas public school requirement of indoctrinating every Texas seventh grade student with a year’s worth of Texas history. And I do mean “indoctrinate.” No wonder folks from out-of-state think we Texans are members of a cult. And that’s part of the joke. We’re not really. We just thought it’d be funny to watch all those non-Texan middle school parents wig out about having to do little Alamo shadowbox projects with their children or watch them get all balled up in a knot about spelling Mirabeau B. Lamar correctly.

Texas history, too, is fraught with examples of pithy humor.

On October 2, 1835, Texan settlers and a detachment of the Mexican army went head to head over a broken cannon. The thing didn’t work, but the Mexican government had previously sent an oh-so-politely worded letter which essentially said, “We’d like to have that gun back now.” The Texians (that’s what we called ourselves back then) saw the request for what it was, took an old wedding dress and stitched a black star and a cannon on it over the words, “COME AND TAKE IT,” which was a slightly more elegant way of saying, “BITE ME.”

I can just see the fathers of the Texas Revolution sitting around a campfire and posing the question, “How can we really poke the ruling government into a blind, blithering rage?”

“Hey! Let’s really get their breeches in a wad!” one might have said. “How ‘bout we hang that gun out in front of ‘em with a big flag that says, ‘COME AND TAKE IT!’?”
And a collective guffaw probably ensued, followed by another settler saying, “Ya know? If they didn’t want us to get their goat, they shouldn’t have told us where it was tied.”

Yep. That’s Texas humor, alright.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Texans, trucks are as much about relationships as transportation

I was driving up Clear Creek toward Stan Schlueter a while back, stuck behind this gal in a big pickup truck. She was not from Texas, bless her heart. I could tell by the way she handled that truck.

A Texas woman knows how to drive a truck. She is not timid about driving it, either. If she doesn’t know how to drive it, she doesn’t drive it until she’s mastered her fear of the beast.

This woman clearly was terrified of the pickup under her command, and I can’t say I blame her. Driving any truck requires a lot of self-confidence and exceptional depth perception. It requires the driver to acknowledge that he or she drives the truck, the truck does not drive him or her. The woman ahead of me was letting the truck drive her. She was toodling along at about the speed of smell and I could see through the dark tinting on the back window that her head was swiveling faster than an oscillating fan in August. I practically could hear her cussing her husband for having bought the thing in the first place. I’m guessing circumstances were such that she was forced to drive it against her will this one time. And I imagine her husband got an earful of exactly what she thought of that truck.

But this is Texas, and in Texas, you need a truck. You can’t haul sod, furniture, dogs, tools, watermelons, goats, barbecue pits, heifers or trash to the dump without one. A pick up truck is not so much a macho status symbol as it is the most versatile vehicle ever made. There’s very little a pick up truck can’t do except maybe fly to the moon and I assure you that’s probably been tried.

Texans and their pickup trucks share a sort of symbiotic relationship. Texas was made for pickup trucks and pickup trucks were made for Texas.

I’ve heard some folks call SUVs “trucks.” They are fine automobiles, don’t get me wrong, but whether it’s an itty bitty Kia Sportage or the Fordasaurus known as the Excursion (which I like to call the Ford Excessive), it just is not, not, not a pickup truck. And I seriously doubt an SUV inspires the same sentimental feelings in its owner that a pickup elicits in its owner.

My father owned a 1965 Ford pickup in a color that was originally called oyster, or some kind of color describing a dull, gelatinous shellfish. That pickup was his life-long love, outside of my mother and his brindle Jersey heifer, Rosie. Daddy drove that truck every day for nearly 40 years.

He tried to teach me to drive it. It had a column shift and I’m not good with a standard. My father patiently instructed me through all my start-stop-start-stop-cuss-repent-start-stop driving lessons. He eventually gave up. I never did learn to drive a stick or a column shift.

That truck moved us from San Marcos to San Angelo; from San Angelo to Greenville; from Greenville to Commerce; and from Commerce to Oshkosh, Wis. Then it moved us back to Texas for good. That truck moved me to Austin College, Texas A&M, back home to Tyler and on to Dallas. It was with us in hard times and good times. That old pickup truck was a member of our Family.

Once, the administration of the university at which he was a journalism professor told him his old truck just didn’t present the right “image” for the school. So Daddy converted the engine to run on propane since it burned cleaner than regular gas. After all, that was an environmentally responsible and progressive thing to do, right?

They left him alone after that.

When I was younger I had a hard time dating. I just couldn’t bring myself to go out with a fella who didn’t drive a pickup truck. I genuinely believed that if a man didn’t have a pickup, he probably couldn’t wire a ceiling fan, change a tire, pull a calf out of the mud or re-roof a house. And if he couldn’t do any of those things, he probably wouldn’t make a good husband. My college sweetheart proved that point for me. He drove a beautiful Chevy Silverado pickup truck, but the boy couldn’t tell a sparkplug from sparkin’ and I eventually had to let him go.

Fortunately, I’ve evolved in my thinking since then. Plenty of people drive other vehicles, know lots of very useful things and they are productive members of Texas society. So when I found myself newly single and dating again nigh on four years ago, I made a conscious effort not to judge a man by his ride and it paid off. The fact that the man who is now my husband drives a truck had nothing to do with how we connected. Not at all. No, I grew to love Frank for himself, for his intellect, his kindness and a whole host of other grown-up, mature positives.

That, and the fact that he has a really hot motorcycle.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How about Gracebook?

If you're on Facebook and most of all y'all are, you are aware that the FB folks have boogered everything up yet again. Yes, my friends, the Zuck has struck. Mark Zuckerberg, dang it, quit touchin' stuff!

I am no social media genius, but I appeal to those who are: create a social media platform for Texans.

We can call it "TexBook" and set it up with different "friends" lists. There would be separate lists for your friends, co-workers, acquaintances, fellow church members, relatives, children and the weirdo friend of a friend who just thinks you're hot and wants to "date" you.

To serve denizens of each list, your friends would see the profile of the real you, complete with your drunken posts from your iPhone and pictures you took with that iPhone of your butt last Saturday night. (I don't do that kind of thing, but I have heard some people do.)

Your relatives, co-workers, fellow church members and acquaintences would see a different profile filled with thoughtful posts of quotes by Heidegger and Gibran, or a scripture verse from 1st and/or 2nd Timothy, and photos of your visit to the Gault archeological site last summer.

The weirdos or the "Annoying Perv" list members will be redirected to the county sheriff's office website.

The Southern Baptists will have our own social media: Gracebook. Everybody is welcome to join if they feel the call. And all our profiles will be public because it's easier to witness by example that way.

We could call it "Faithbook," but it would thound like we were lithping.

There will be a translator function so our profiles can be read in every language, including Swahili, Tagalog and Farsi, so that we can "go ye therefore" and "teach all nations" in cyberspace.

Instead of "likes" we'll have "amens." And we'll have the ability to check in at Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-A, Mardel and Lifeway Christian Stores (you cannot buy a Christian there; I tried) regardless of what store you actually are patronizing. This function will be extremely useful if we happen to find ourselves visiting over county lines.

Yes. That last sentence was Southern Baptist code and we'll just leave it at that.

Instead of "unfriending" someone, we will place them on the "prayer list" where they will stay until we "welcome them back to the fold."

And of course we will have a killer music platform because there is nothing as rocking as a Southern Baptist music ministry. Jesus jams, y'all. Big time.

Instead of "events" we'll have "revivals" and "retreats." Your "RSVP" choices will include "Yes, I'm attending," "I'm waiting for the call of the Lord" and "Thanks, but I'm on a mission trip that day."

And every now and again, there will be an announcement to build more Gracebook pages because nothing draws us Southern Baptists like new construction.

Until then, we're gonna have to muddle through with that which "The Zuck" has stuck us. Y'all cogitate on this matter and let me know what you think: can we have a Texas social media outlet? Or are we gonna have to endure more changes we didn't ask for?

Bless your heart, you’ve just been insulted

I and my gal pals were swapping e mails once again about topics that interest us, and it came up in conversation that people have shown more rude behavior to one another than ever before.

Texans and Southerners believe in good manners. We’ve been taught to be gracious even when others are not. We also are famous for being kind to be cruel.

Y’all, I’m apologizing up front for all this; Texans are supposed to be friendly, not tacky. But it happens. What’s more…we’re not just enthusiastic about it; we’re flat out creative.

Gal pal Chris wrote, “There are ways to be rude without being in-your-face about it. I think blatant criticism shows a great lack of feeling and imagination. It takes no forethought to say you hate someone's shoes. But to say when asked your opinion of someone’s footwear, ‘Those must be very special to you, I think you should request to be buried in them so you can have them with you for eternity’ takes flair and style! Girls need to be taught this by their mothers and grandmothers from a very early age.

“It takes a moment for the person to digest what you have just said, thus giving you time to beat feet out of the room before they can fire something back,” she continued. “Sometimes, depending on from what part of the country the person you have just insulted comes, it could be days before they understand that they were just hit with a well-placed insult right between the eyes. Most women can at least learn to use the obligatory ‘bless her heart’ after a commentary made on, say, the behemoth proportions of the derriere that just left the room. ‘Maybe she should limit her cupcake intake to say a case a week, bless her heart.’ Now, that just sounds like concern for a fellow human being to me, am I right?”

Well…yes. It does sound like genuine concern for your fellow human being. Pretty is as pretty does, or so said our mothers. We’ve been encouraged, taught and brow-beaten in to being “nice” for so long that even when we’re nasty, it sounds like we’re flirting.

It’s awful to have to admit this, but there’s a lot of fun in finding a way to tell people where to go in such a way that they actually look forward to the trip.

Our terrible habit of hurling flowery zingers at our “frenemies” was immortalized by Joe Sears and Jaston Williams in their play, “Greater Tuna,” by none other than Vera Carp, small town snob and busybody, when she turns to someone in the audience and says, “Oh I had a dress just like that…YEEEEEARS ago!”

Juls, our token northern gal, found these little gems and shared them with us. If you know who actually composed this list, let me know. I’d love to send them a thank you note.

Southern Belle Insults:
1) You're smart to do your laundry on Saturday night, when everyone else is out.
2) If you were taller, you could be a model.
3) Nice dress. I've seen a lot of girls wearing it, but I think it suits you most.
4) It's so refreshing to have a conversation with someone who doesn't feel the need to prove they are smart.
5) I think it's so cool that you're comfortable with how you look.
6) You look so nice today, I almost didn't recognize you.
7) I can't get over how good you look.
8) You're so lucky. If I ate like you…I'd look like a house.
9) You don't look happy in that.
10) That sweater is…interesting. I just think it's a little young for you.
11) You're more of a "street smart" kind of guy.
12) You're not the kind of girl guys date; you're the kind of girl they marry.
13) You're so real.
14) Oh. You're wearing THAT? Well, it's not something I'd wear but I guess you can get away with it.
15) You got your hair cut! It looks so much better!
16) That's pretty complicated. I'm surprised you figured it out.

Now, I believe if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all…if you can help it. Clearly, my friends feel the same way.

Just after our delightfully catty little electronic exchange, Juls wrote, “OH MY GOSH! I pulled a Southern Belle today and didn't even mean to. I saw a lady who was dressed down today -- frumpy t-shirt and old jeans and without thinking I told her, ‘Oh, you look so comfortable today.’ Everyone generally wears office casual type of clothes at the seminar I attended (it IS a professional seminar which is an opportunity to network) and she really stood out. She's nice so I hope she didn't take offense. Shame on me!”

Juls has been in Texas so long, she went native. Ever the genteel soul that I am, I responded with the classic Dorothy Parker line, “Girl, if you have nothing nice to say, come sit by me.”

By the way, Ms. Parker was born in New Jersey, bless her heart, but it never really showed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cowboy up: It’s not just a phrase, it’s a lifestyle

Cowboy up.

I was asked recently what that phrase meant. I have to tell you, it’s a new phrase in Texas phraseology, but it’s an old concept. For one to “cowboy up” –or “cowgirl up” for that matter—one must get tough, determined and face whatever comes with great deal of “grit.” And if you don’t know what “grit” is, just watch little Mattie Ross in the film “True Grit”.

To “cowboy up” wasn’t always a nice thing to do, however.

Cowboys were, in the beginning, the undesirables of society. Herding cattle over long distances was dirty, dangerous and expensive. It wasn’t a job for so-called “nice people.”

Behold, the genesis of the cowboy.

Men, usually immigrants with no family, spent weeks and sometimes months on the plains driving cattle from Texas northward to wherever the trains were or the stockyards or both. They slept out in the open, fought off wild animals or other cowboys out to steal their cattle; they endured all kinds of nasty weather. And what little pay they got, they blew immediately once they got to town. They didn’t always survive the post-cattle drive bender, either. Some were killed in shoot-outs. Some ended up in prison.

If you know anything about livestock, then you know that working with cows is a challenge, put mildly. Cattle can be dumb as a box of rocks and about as much fun. If you have experience with dairy cows and hand-milking, you know how often a cow will purposefully kick over a bucket of milk or stand on your foot “accidentally.” And you are intimately aware of just how mean a dairy bull can be.

Longhorns are the meanest of the beef cattle, rivaling the bad attitude of a dairy bull in love. The difference is that longhorns are packing a pair of horns that can be lethal, and they’ll use ‘em on you if they can.

If you don’t know much about cattle, just watch the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. That’s a stampede, folks. And only a total fool would willingly get out in front of a bunch of spooked bulls in the name of proving one’s machismo, regardless of what Ernest Hemingway thought about it.

With all those factors in play, survival required a certain code. Those with a strong moral compass usually fared a whole lot better than those without.

Thus arose the code of the cowboy, made famous by cowboy celebrities such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. There are many such codes purported to be the “true” code of the cowboy, but I’m gonna list Gene Autry’s code, because Autry was my father’s favorite cowboy troubadour. So here goes, folks. Gene Autry’s Code of the Cowboy:

1.The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man or take unfair advantage.
2.He must never go back on his word or a trust confided in him.
3.He must always tell the truth.
4.He must be gentle with children, the elderly and animals.
5.He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
6.He must help people in distress.
7.He must be a good worker.
8.He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action and personal habits.
9.He must respect women, parents and his nation’s laws.
10.The Cowboy is a patriot.

Cowboys (and cowgirls) are all these things. And they have a sense of humor, expressed most often in western wisdom. Some of the best cowboy proverbs are:
1.Don’t squat with your spurs on.
2.Don’t name a pig you plan to eat.
3.Country fences need to be horse high, pig tight and bull strong.
4.Life is not about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.
5.Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.
6.Life is simpler when you plough around the stump.
7.Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled.
8.Meanness don't happen overnight.
9.Forgive your enemies. It messes with their heads.
10.Don't sell your mule to buy a plough.
11.Don't corner something meaner than you.
12.It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge.

To “cowgirl up” is the same as “cowboy up” but, obviously, meant for a different gender. To “cowgirl up” is the heart and soul of a Texas woman. It means you deal with what life hands you and you don’t whine or get all “high-maintenance princess” about it.

And by the way, there is no place in Texas for a high-maintenance princess. That kind of girly-girl is just plug useless, so put your big girl britches on and cowgirl up. And for heaven’s sake, learn to read an oil dipstick and a tire pressure gauge, would ya? You can be truly feminine and have at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to maintain your car without the help of a man…but that’s a different soap box for a different day.

To “cowboy” or “cowgirl up,” you have to take a stand. You have to be strong, courageous and willing to make sacrifices. You have to face down danger, stress and quite possibly surly in-laws with grace. You have to be willing to do the right thing, even—or especially—when it’s not the popular thing to do.

Plainly said, to “cowboy up” kind of sums up what it is to be a soldier or a member of a soldier’s family. And that Code of the Cowboy sounds a lot like Army values. So to “cowboy up” is also to “soldier up.”

Guess we’re not all that different after all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Remembering Saint Tom: Famed Cowboys coach exemplified Texas values

Y’all, I am not a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.

I don’t follow football, but once upon a time, I was at least proud of the Cowboys being a Texas team.

I was until February 25, 1989, one of the darkest days in Texas history.

That was the day the new owner of the team, Jerry Jones, fired Tom Landry as coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

Now I know that, at the time, Landry was not up to his usual par with regard to the team’s record. There was a real down-turn there for a while. And it is possible that it was time for him to retire.

But, folks, he didn’t deserve the undignified way Jones tossed him out of the organization.

Tom Landry was the third winningest coach in the National Football League. He was one of the last of the professional football “gentleman” coaches.

Jerry Jones, though a Southerner, is no gentleman. And he should turn in his Southerner card for the tacky way he treats people.

Jones is no leader, either. He cannot stand back and let his coaches do their jobs. No. He has to get all bug nuts crazy and come down to the sidelines to stand there like the vestigial thing that he is and glower, as if to tell his employees that they are about to be fired if they don’t turn it all around right danged now. If he really feels that way about things then he needs to don a whistle and some tacky polyester pants, and go do the coaching himself.

True Texans still revere Tom Landry. He was one of us, born and raised in Mission. He exemplified the intrinsic nature of Texans.

Jones, in the way he fired Landry, insulted us and our values. We have never forgiven him. We never will.

I was in church not long ago when one of my fellow congregants was spewing about the Cowboys and Jones. She was sitting in the pew behind me, lettin’ it all fly about that new stadium Jones demanded built and how everything is too expensive for the average family to attend Cowboys games.

“Not that it matters now,” she said. “I don’t want my children even watching Cowboys games for the way the players act.”

She’s right.

Under Landry, the players might not have been saints, but at least they were held accountable for their public behavior by their coach. And Clint Murchison stayed out of Landry’s way, which, by the way, probably contributed to Landry’s 270-178-6 record with the team.

Tony Dorsett once failed to call Landry to tell him he would not be able to attend a light practice before a game. He showed up to the Cowboy’s locker room for the game and explained himself. Landry listened. Then he said, “Tony, you’re not going to start today, and you may not even play.”

Dorsett’s family members were in the stands that day. They had come all the way from Pennsylvania to see him. But the player had screwed up by not showing up and not informing his coach as to why.

Eventually, Landry put Dorsett in, but the lesson to Dorsett was clear: honor your commitment to the team.

Dorsett said players might not have liked Landry’s decisions, but they knew he was always fair. Landry listened to both sides and did what he thought was right.

Almost every former Cowboys player, from Bob Lilly to Roger Staubach, remembered Landry as being patient, fair, disciplined and understanding.

The coach took a lot of teasing about that hat. Landry’s hat was his signature. He always wore a suit and that hat to every game. It was what a gentleman did. And Landry was one of those coaches who made football a respectable profession.

Landry committed to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in 1962. His example was an inspiration to other coaches. He was described as a strong and decent man by Dallas Morning News sportswriter, Blackie Sherrod.

Landry was not perfect. He was not above telling a bit of a fib to protect a player’s privacy. He pulled Bob Hayes from a starting lineup once, saying it was due to an injury. The media checked with the NFL office to see if there was an injury report; there was none. And Hayes had played on some kicking teams. Pulling Hayes was a disciplinary action, for sure. But Landry wasn’t sharing the whys and the wherefores with the media.

Sometimes it’s just best that we don’t know every little detail.

Jeff Pearlman, an ESPN blogger, wrote a tell-all book about the Cowboys entitled “Boys Will Be Boys: The Glory Days and Party Nights of the Dallas Cowboys.” I interviewed him via telephone for a newspaper story.

Pearlman had the gall to say that Jones’ firing of Landry wasn’t that big of a deal and that it was the right thing to do. I disagreed. I said Texans were embarrassed at the way the coach was treated and that the players’ behavior was terrible since he left.

“Well, Texans don’t care what the Cowboys players do as long as they are winning games,” Pearlman chuckled.

“I lived in Dallas during the 1990s, Jeff. I remember the bad behavior of which you wrote. I remember what Dallas thought and what Texans thought,” I replied. “There was a bumper sticker seen all over town showing handcuffs with a caption that said, ‘Cowboys Super Bowl Rings.’ If that doesn’t show disgust, I don’t know what does.”

“Well, I disagree,” Pearlman said, smugly.

“You, sir, do not know Texans,” I said. “And you, like that awful Jerry Jones, don’t understand class.”

I hung up on him.

The thing is this, and Tom Landry understood it: honor matters. Good behavior counts. Fairness is important. And chivalry should never, ever die.

Texans—true Texans, that is—expect decency out of everyone, including their professional sports teams. It’s not the winning that matters; it’s how the game is played.

It’s also about how a life is lived.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How not to hate Texas

I know a gal who, bless her heart, is from Detroit, Mich.

She hates Texas.

She married a Soldier and bravely moved away from all kith and kin to Fort Hood. I salute her grit for sticking it out this long. I wouldn’t let any man take me out of this great state (did it once; never again), so I can imagine what it feels like to leave a home and a culture you love.

Texas is not for everyone. I get that. Some folks feel about Texas the way I feel about New Jersey: blow it off the continent and good riddance.

Many of you reading this little pearl of Texas wit and wisdom need help in finding meaningful existence while exiled here.

Perhaps I can help.

You’re gonna have to work with me here and understand that Texas is what it is: big, wild and…well…Texas.

You’re gonna have to find one thing you like and start from there. For many Texas transplants, all it takes is finding a place in which time spent there is a pleasure.

My friend likes Austin. The state capital is her little oasis of urban living replete with hippies, hybrid cars, Seattle-based coffee shops and politicians. She’s able to overlook the city’s many faults and find some solace there.

She’s not alone in her appreciation for that strange municipality. I understand quite a few people just looooove Austin. I’m not one of them. I think the town puts too much stock in “weird” and it’s not even a cool weird anymore. It’s a pretentious weird, lacking originality and rife with one-upsmanship in the pursuit of weirdness. It is no longer “weird” for weird’s sake. It is now “weirder-than-thou.”

Speaking of weird, I got thrown out of an Austin whole-paycheck foods market once. I can’t remember why I was there, but I was up to my Justins in people wearing clothing made from hemp. Just for grins, I stood in the deli section and hollered, “Where are the pork rinds and the skirt steak?”

You could have heard a pin drop after that one and they weren’t real polite in asking me to leave.

I despise Austin, especially driving in it while trying to find events or attractions. Finding anything in that city requires a crystal ball and Ouija board, and the tell-tale reek of patchouli will make your eyes bleed.

If small-town Texas is not your venti cup of herbal tea, I suggest you visit to Austin. You will forget you are in Texas completely, I guarantee it. Our capital is the least Texan city in Texas, followed closely by Dallas, which is another choice “less-than-Texas” escape.

I don’t care how many episodes of Dallas you watched in the 1980s, that was NOT Texas. If it had been, Sue Ellen’s brothers would have made short work of J.R. and the series would have been over before it started.

Texas newspaper magnate Amon Carter hated Dallas. The father of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram called it “Baby Manhattan” back in the early part of the 20th century. Many Texans say Fort Worth is where the West begins and Dallas is where the East peters out. And the city has been all highbrow about itself ever since that Neiman-Marcus department store opened up there in 1907.

There are trappings of Texas all over Dallas, but honestly, there is nothing really Texan about the city except it is actually in Texas. And frankly, there is nothing more ridiculous than a Dallasite dressed “cowboy casual,” whatever the heck that means.

I lived there for 7 years and loved it. There was always something to do or see and the cultural events were fantastic. And, as always, what Dallas lacked, Fort Worth certainly had because, truth be told, Fort Worth actually has more cultural and arts events than Dallas.

Don’t say that out loud in Dallas. You won’t get on the A-list for parties if you do.

You could go to Houston, but I don’t recommend it. I do, however, recommend we build a high-security fence around Houston, drop Kurt Russell in it and see how long it takes him to escape.

Nobody likes Houston, not even Texans.

At some point, however, you are going to have to come to terms with being in Texas. In that case, I suggest you go to San Antonio, which is urban, chic AND Texas all in one. It’s Texas on steroids and chili powder. I get all weepy at the Alamo and I can get an awesome cup of Seattle-based coffee shop caffeinated-anything just down the street on the Riverwalk. San Antonio just might help you make peace with your anti-Texas demons.

Other than that, I can’t help you. You may well have a case of TTRD or terminal Texas revulsion disorder. You can try chili transfusions, big hair teases and rodeo gestalt therapy, but ultimately you might just have to excise the problem at its source and hie-thee-hence to your home state. Texans won’t be offended. But we’re sure not gonna do an intervention, either.

Driving ‘Texas-friendly’ in Texas

You may think you know the rules of the road when it comes to driving…and then you move to Texas.

Well, bless your heart and welcome to the Texas School of Creative Driving.

Before I get too far into this, I must mention that you should—no, you must--follow all state traffic laws to the letter. What I am about to share with you is information you need to “watch out for the other guy,” as my father liked to say before I took off on a road trip anywhere.

This is not meant to instruct you on how to drive in Texas. My advice about driving in Texas is this: drive like they’re out to get you, because they just might be.

Texans are notorious for not using their turn signals when indicating which direction they are turning. It is not that we are trying to play a high-stakes game of “guess what I’m thinking now” with you. We just have a bad habit of believing it’s just quicker to make the turn rather than tell anyone we’re gonna do it.

Another theory is that for a very long time Texas was sparsely populated and we just felt it was a waste of a real good light bulb to turn that thing on when there was no one around to actually see it.

The four-way stop is another example of Texas motorist creativity. It’s kind of like a highway version of Texas Hold ‘em if you think about it. Four or more drivers are watching the eyeballs of the others to see who is bluffing and who isn’t.

When I have a choice, I travel through intersections with traffic lights. But then that’s no guarantee of safety either, because it seems like we think yellow turning red makes orange and falls under the category of “almost” which only counts when you’re tossing a game of horseshoes. When you are stopped at a traffic light and it turns green, give yourself a little time and look both ways before darting across the intersection because you might get mashed flatter than a tortilla if you don’t.

If you’ve spent any time on the back roads here in Texas, you may have noticed that we will often pull over and drive on the shoulder for a spell. This is because we think you want to pass us and would rather not kiss the grill of the oncoming 18-wheel truck barreling down the road at about 10-20 miles over the speed limit. This is what we consider driving “Texas-friendly” even though it is rather dangerous.

It’s also our little way of saying, “Be my guest, wingnut. If you want to catch the eye of that state trooper just over the hill, knock yourself out and get off my tail.”

Farmers who look like throwbacks to the Jurassic era like to do this after they’ve made you tail them for 14 miles at about 14 miles per hour. My father said it was because they were checking out the progress of somebody else’s cotton field, but I think it’s more out of a passive-aggressive need to drive the “silly Yankee” bug nuts crazy.

On behalf of my late cotton-farming grandfather who was the god-king of passive-aggressive pranks, I apologize.

I’m not gonna leave out the motorcyclists.

My father loved to point out that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution might be correct because all the riders who chose not to wear helmets were, indeed, practicing natural selection and the stupid ones were getting siphoned out of the gene pool by virtue of not wearing personal protective clothing and equipment.

“Your skull’s like an egg,” he said, after pointing out a bare-headed biker next to us on the highway. “What do you think’s gonna happen when that egg hits asphalt?”
Because of that, I never got on a motorcycle until about seven years ago, and only with a whole lot of leather and a helmet. I’m extra careful, even as a passenger on a bike. I grew up in Texas. I know how we drive. I’m not taking any more chances than necessary.

I can’t address all the foibles of Texas drivers, because I just don’t have that much blog space to spare. But I will say this: wherever you go, drive safely; drive defensively. And remember, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Catching a wave in Texas

In Texas, we like to wave at you as we drive by. We might not know who you are, but we’re going to give you a wave because you might know us and then show up to church on Sunday in a pout because we didn’t wave back at you when you waved first.

I live in a small town in Central Texas. I have come close to getting carpal tunnel syndrome because of all the waving I do as I drive.

I don’t know 90 percent of the folks I’m waving at, but once in a while, I’ll see someone I do know.

My neighbor, Cappy Eads, gets most of my waves. You might not know him but if you follow the television show CSI, then you’ve seen his son, George, at work in Hollywood dusting dead folks for fingerprints. So Cappy gets lots and lots of waves from me. He probably thinks I’m insane, but one day all that hard work will pay off and I’ll get to wave at George. Hope springs eternal anyway and George is living proof that Texas truly is “God’s Country.”

Waving lets people know we see them. People like to walk for exercise in my neighborhood and I wave to let them know I see them and I’m not gonna hit them. They wave back for a variety reasons. Sometimes it’s to say hello. Other times it’s to say “Thanks for not plowing me down with your car.” You know, neighborly stuff.

Waving also is our way of saying “thank you” for just about anything. If you let us cut ahead of you in traffic, we Texans will shoot you a wave, so long as you don’t shoot back. Road rage seems to be prevalent no matter where you go. This is unfortunate. It seems like everybody likes to get mad at everyone else for the smallest of infractions. That wave isn’t seen in our bigger cities anymore because it will get you shot on occasion.

And speaking of bad behavior, that wave also might be our own version of the single-finger salute except we’re going to make it both genteel and complex by giving you “all the birds.” I call it a military-encrypted “bird” and the onus is on the other driver to figure out which one is correct. It’s kind of like a sign-language version of “bless your heart” which, when used at the beginning of a statement, makes everything you are about to say all right, including questioning the legitimacy of another’s parentage.

“I know that ol’ boy’s mean. Bless his heart, his father was a bachelor all of his life,” one might say.

Gettin’ the picture here?

Men and women wave differently. Women will take a hand off the steering wheel and give you a complete, five-fingered, open-palm wave that you’d have to be blind to miss. Men, however, barely raise more than a few fingers off the wheel. Look close or you’ll miss it. It’s all about the “cool” for men when it comes to waving and driving. If you’re a man, don’t show too much excitement or the other driver will think you’re signaling approaching danger and likely drive into a ditch. If you mis-deliver a signal, you’ll hear about it the following Sunday in church. And so will everyone else in the congregation.

If you happen to see a Texas driver raise his hand, take a good long look. It’s probably a friendly wave, whether he’s waving his whole hand or just sticking up about four fingers off the top of the steering wheel in a laid-back, James Dean cool kind of way. More than likely, no harm’s meant at all. It’s just a little bit of Texas-friendly driving sign language letting you know we see you and we’re wishing you a nice day.

First printed in the Fort Hood Sentinel, 2008.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Don't blow your boots off

Hats, jeans and boots are not “de rigeur” clothing in the state of Texas. You are not required to dress that way if you don’t want to. Many of the “natives” here don’t dress that way either.

But if you’re gonna do it, please do it right.

In Texas, you can’t just wear any hat and be appropriately dressed.

It is a hat, not a “cowboy” hat. Cattlemen wear them. Horsemen wear them. Texans wear them. It is part of the dress of cowboys, yes. But these hats are not the sole domain of cowboys. And those who dress the part have not necessarily earned the moniker. Real cowboys—not the drugstore variety—are a very tough breed. You can’t just put on a hat and be one.

But I’m getting off-topic.

Felt hats are not worn before Labor Day, or before the first chilly day of the year, for that matter. While the weather’s hot, only a straw will do, and not those black straw hats which apparently are all the rage with those Nashville music Rexall wranglers (Texan for “drugstore cowboy”) of the country and western music scene.

If you want to look like you are from out of state, then go on and wear that black or gray felt hat in the middle of the summer.

And we’ll all have a fine time laughing at you.

Cavalry Stetsons are exempt from this rule. They are an Army thing and outside the bounds of Texas hat etiquette. Texas civilian attire, however, is an entirely different matter. You are in my arena now. Cowboy up and deal with it.

Moving southward, one’s jeans also are important.

If you are caught in a flood, then go on and wear those denim pants that stop just shy of the tops of your ankles. Show off your boot stitching. And we’ll all know you’re from out of state.

Regardless of the brand of denim you choose, your jeans should have enough fabric to break at least three times over the tops of your boots.

If it floods, stick ‘em in your boots. But for the love of Sam Houston, please make sure your britches are the right length and not too tight. You’ll fetch some candid comments from Texans if they are.

The late Lieutenant Governor of Texas. Bob Bullock, once remarked about one of our Texas representatives’ trousers saying, “That ol' boy's britches are so tight that if he farted, he’d blow both his boots off.”

Speaking of boots, whatever your brand or model, make sure you have the right boot for the right situation.

Ropers are fine for everyday wear if you wish. But if you’re gonna ride horses, you might want to opt for something with a more pronounced heel. Ropers are designed for calf-roping. They are made to slip out of the stirrups easily. If you’re not roping calves and you do get up to a pretty good lope, your risk of landing fanny over tea-kettle in the ditch just went up about 80-percent. I own a pair of ropers, but for me, they are a fashion choice, not a riding boot.

Western boots with a sharp, pointed toe are called “cockroach killers” and I love to wear them with a long denim skirt. But, again, they are more of a fashion statement than a functional boot, unless of course you need to kill cockroaches. And then that pointy toe suddenly makes a whole lot of sense.

Frankly, they look stupid on men. Enough said.

Lace-up boots became popular about 20 years ago. “Lacers” are a throw-back to the turn of the 19th century. They remind me of the boots my great-aunt Linz used to wear. She was in her nineties when I knew her and she was a genuine East Texas hillbilly. She wore her hair piled up on top of her head for as long as I can remember and I think she used to spit tobacco, even though I never actually saw her do it. I thought she was really pretty cool.

I don’t own a pair of “lacers.” Every time I try a pair on, I get the strange urge to put a pinch of chaw in my lip, and that’s just not something a well-educated woman does. The “lacers” may have to wait. But lots of Texans swear by them as the most comfortable and functional boot they’ve ever worn.

If you are wondering about spurs, let me simplify the matter for you. Spurs are made for riding a horse and making sure the animal moves when you want it to move. Never wear spurs indoors (especially on a hardwood floor), and for crying out loud, don’t squat with them on.

I suppose I should address shirts, but that’s the one area that has become “anything goes.” I’ve seen everything from T-shirts to halter tops with hats, jeans and boots, so I guess it’s up to what makes you happy.

A word to the wise, however: leave the halter-tops to the ladies.

An original Yellow Prose blog entry, 2011.

Size matters when it comes to Texas weather

Texas weather is a constant topic of conversation, especially among Texans, but recently I’ve seen some out-of-state folks wig out about it.

September saw its share of killer storms, particularly on the Texas coast, and by the way we all reacted around Fort Hood when Hurricane Ike was on its way in 2008, you would have thought we were sitting on Galveston Bay. People bought every loaf of bread at one Killeen grocery store on the night before the storm. I was toodling around there with my shopping cart looking for croissants and orange juice for Saturday morning when one woman stopped me.

“Aren’t you worried you won’t have enough food when the storm hits?” she asked with clear panic registering in her eyes.

“Ma’am, according to what I’ve seen, we’ll be lucky if we even see a storm cloud in this area,” I replied. “I would love to get some of the rain Ike’s bringing, but frankly, I don’t think we’ll get a drop.”

I’m pleased to say I was right.

Texas is a really BIG place. And when I say “big,” I mean MASSIVE. Most of Europe would fit inside our great state. So I assure you, we were in very little danger of experiencing much more than the spittle we got when Ike blew through. We’re a good 245 miles from Seawall Boulevard. That’s more than a 4-hour drive, give or take a pit stop here and there.

Having said all that, I gambled and won this time. Next time, I might not be so lucky, because, in Texas, the weather turns on a dime. Ike could have gone west as easily as it went north and then east. We stood the risk of power outages, damage and flooding, but not on the massive and frightening scale experienced by our Gulf Coast cousins.

The weather changes rapidly here and it doesn’t much care what we think of it. It is often said by Texans that if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change. And predicting it is as much hillbilly hoodoo as it is science. October is a prime time to test this theory. It’s a month that can’t decide if it wants to be summer or winter. One day will be blazing hot and the next will be a chilly 40 degrees and rainy. And March in Texas is more of the same. One day the flowers are blooming; the next day, a frost has killed them. And sometimes it happens within a 24-hour span.

We have a tornado once in awhile in the spring and flooding is a concern any time it rains. Ice storms are a big threat in the winter and the threat doesn’t stop until about the first week in April. In 2007, it snowed on Easter weekend in Texas and we have had more 75-degree Christmas Days than I care to remember. Need I say more?
If you talk “global warming” to a Texan, they are likely to look at you like you’ve got lobsters crawling out of your nose. Warming? Let’s talk global HEAT! It’s so hot that a college professor of mine once said had it not been for air conditioning, Texas never would have been civilized. I hate to admit it (he was from New York), but he probably was right.

Geography does figure in our constant climatic change. If it rains in Temple, it might not be raining here. Or we can get a frog strangler over this way, and Belton will not see a drop. It can be 98 degrees in Austin and 60 degrees in Amarillo, way up in the Panhandle of Texas on the very same day.

We’re not a tiny state like New Jersey that has fairly consistent weather from border to border and it takes about 8 hours to drive across only because the traffic is so balled up from point A to point B. Oh no sir. It’s closer to drive to Galveston than it is to Fort Bliss from here. El Paso is a good 589 miles and 9 hours drive. The distance from Chicago to Tyler only is about 168 miles further than the distance from El Paso to Tyler, so you can see why Gulf Coast weather is hardly a reason for Central Texas to so much as blink.

So how do non-Texans make sense of all this? Do what the native Texans do: get a weather rock. If the rock is wet, it’s raining. If it’s dry, it’s not. If the rock is white, it’s snowing. And if the rock is gone, it’s a tornado. You can’t get much simpler than that.

First printed in The Fort Hood Sentinel, 2008.

Blood is thicker than water…and barbecue sauce

Once in awhile, you will hear a Texan talk about what generation of Texan they are. The way Texans feel about their ancestors borders on worship. It’s weird, I know. But we revere our roots like no one else.

You probably have heard a candidate for political office say, “I’m a 3rd generation Texan.” That’s code for “I understand the politics around here and I’m not going to fix that which ain’t broke.”

You will not hear people say, “I’m a 1st generation Texan.” It carries no weight and 1st genners don’t have a clue of what all this generational stuff means. Your children may be born in Texas, but are they truly Texans? I think so, but some folks believe that just because a cat has kittens in an oven doesn’t mean we call ‘em biscuits.

I’m a 6th generation Texan and that’s saying quite a lot. My father’s Family (Casstevens is my maiden name) came to Texas in 1850 from Tennessee via a brief stop in Illinois. It was just long enough to figure out that Illinois winters are deadly and enough time to wait out that little Santa Ana issue here in Texas back in 1836. They settled near Fort Worth and there are hundreds of Casstevenses in Tarrant, Johnson and Nocona counties today.

I can tell you exactly who the first Casstevens was in Colonial America. I know that he came from Sheffield, England in 1664. I can tell you how many sets of twins my great-great grandparents had (two sets of identical twins of both genders) and their names.

The walls of my Family room in my home are covered with old sepia-tone photographs and daguerreotypes dating to about 1840. And somewhere still packed in boxes I’ve yet to open since my move to Central Texas, I have letters dating from about 1848 in which one of my ancestors complains to her sister about the high price of mules in Tennessee.

I’m proud of my people. But, as the old Cajun tune says, “There’s one in every Family, I bet you got one too. If you don’t think you got one, then, oh cher, it must be you.”

I don’t have one. I have many.

There’s a part of my Family tree that doesn’t fork.

I met them at a Family reunion 14 years ago. My cousin Sandra owns the Old Casstevens Homeplace in Lillian. It was there in 1997 that as many Casstevens Family members as could get to the middle of nowhere in North Texas gathered to remember and reconnect over barbecue from Casstevens Cash and Carry, my cousin Harold Dan’s grocery store.

More than 200 Casstevens Family members were present when that 1974 Ford pick up in colors of primer I was not aware existed came down the dirt drive of the farmstead. We might not have noticed except for the sound of backfire that made us all turn to look. I say that it was a pick up truck, but it might as well have been a circus clown car for all the people packed in the cab and the bed.

I counted about 25 people and 14 teeth.

I imagine by now visions of Randy Quaid in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation are playing in your head as you read this and you’d be pretty close to right. There was even a dog in the entourage and yes, he got scraps from the table.

They were quite the vision of redneckedness. But they were Family. OUR Family. They were welcome and loved, if a little bizarre.

That’s quite another quirk about Texans and their kin. We may be less than complimentary about our relatives of blood and marriage, but we will be the first to defend them if someone else tries to insult them. I can “dis” my Uncle Doc, but you sure better think twice about it unless you are a second cousin, twice removed from four counties over (which is another form of math I could never understand.

Besides, those Family members provide a certain entertainment at reunions. Just think about how dull that event would have been if your sister’s stepson from her third marriage hadn’t slipped a frog in the ice chest and made Aunt Pearl spit her dentures clean across the front lawn when she found it. And who could you rely on to provide gossip fodder at Thanksgiving if it weren’t for half a dozen really strange cousins on your mama’s side of the Family?

Mostly, we’re proud of our relations. I have an uncle who is an intermediate school principal and considered one of the top in his profession. I have an aunt who is about to retire from the Internal Revenue Service after well over 30 years and never having been shot at, which in any state is a miracle. And I even have a distant cousin who is also a member of the Fourth Estate. David Casstevens writes for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. If you lived in Dallas in the 1980s, you might have recognized the name from a sports column he wrote with Randy Galloway. It was always a real charge to see the name Casstevens on a billboard in a major city and not have FBI’s MOST WANTED next to it. And that, my friends, is something about which I am truly Texas proud.

First printed in The Fort Hood Sentinel, 2008.

Texnicity has its own "omerta"

Being a Texan is as much an ethnic and cultural identity as being Irish, Italian, Polish, Mexican or Jewish. It's a kind of ethnicity I guess y'all could call "Texnicity." We refer to ourselves as Texans as if we were from another country because, in our minds, we are. It is as tough to fit in to a Texan family as it is any other ethnicity. If you were not born a Texan, you will not be able to call yourself a Texan.

It does not count if one of your parents was a Texan; in that case you are only half-Texan. You must have drawn your first breath in the Motherland to be one. If there was such a thing as “la cosa nostra” in Texas, you would not be able to become a “made man.” And yes, even Texans practice “omerta” or the “code of honor.” It is expressed in a single sentence: “Remember who your people are.”

One thing you should know about Texans: we are constantly trying to out-Texan one another. We look at each other under the Lone Star microscope and scrutinize our fellow Texans to keep a check on who is keeping The Code and who is in terrible danger of becoming “Californicated” or “Yankeefried.”

There are many things you must not do to violate The Code. Here are some, but not all:

Never say “you guys” or, worse, “youse guys.” The proper term is “y’all.” If you are referring to one or more people, it is “all y’all.” “You guys” is decidedly Yankee and might be offensive if you are speaking of a group that includes women. The ladies are NOT “guys.”

If you are female please wear a slip under your skirt. We do not need to see how fat your thighs are through your skirt when the sun shines behind you. The mother of a boy I dated in college showed up to one of our family functions in a dress with no slip and my aunts still talk about her to this day. Miss Marnie was from Colorado, once a part of Texas, and the wife of a Conoco Oil Inc. company vice president. At the time they lived in Houston and had lived in Texas long enough to at least learn the language. You’d think she’d have known better. That just goes to show that you can take the girl out of the trailer park but you cannot take the trailer park out of the girl and money cannot buy you class.

If the only music you listen to is country and western, you are trying too hard and we know it. We listen to other music too, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimmy Buffett and .38 Special. We are very complex in our musical tastes.

Texans do not go about in Wrangler jeans and western shirts all the time, but when we do, we do it right. Make sure your jeans adequately cover the tops of your boots even when you sit down. It is not enough to stand there and look good; you have to sit there and look good too. We do not need to see the top-stitching on your boots unless they are off your feet. If you sport the high-water look with your boots, you are a Yankee.

The other Texas uniform includes shorts, T-shirt, flip-flops and gimme cap. The gimme cap generally comes from a feed store. Yankees call them “ball caps.” Other than that, we dress like normal people and you should too.

Jello salad is appropriate at every meal except breakfast, and even then no one would mind. I personally hate the stuff, but my mother has fifty different recipes for it. She makes a black cherry Jello salad that was my father’s favorite. My cousin Kathleen calls it “purple rock Jello” because one time my mother forgot to get pitted cherries and put cherries with the pits in it. Kathleen (at the time, 4 years old) spit a pit out and said, “this Jello has rocks in it!”

Texans will not only tell you they are Texans, they also will tell you what generation Texan they are. I personally am a sixth generation Texan, a Casstevens, tracing my line back to Colonel Trezevant Calhoun Hawpe, who organized the 31st Texas Cavalry Regiment (Hawpe’s Regiment) and was one of the first sheriffs of Dallas County. The Crocketts of David Crockett’s line married into our family. We are steeped in the blood and soil of Texas. The Bass family might have supplied the money for the building and development of Tarrant County, but we were the ones who built it and developed it with our own hands. My paternal grandmother’s family is related to the Bachman family for whom Bachman Lake in Dallas is named.

See what I mean?

And now you understand that sentence: “Remember who your people are.” We remember, we will tell you all about them and we will remind you every chance we get.

Being a Texan is only achieved through time, breeding, birthplace and bloodline. Human development theorists Lev Vygotsky and Jean Piaget argued the “nature versus nurture” debate until their deaths, but as a Texan, I can tell you it is both, hands down. While you cannot be a Texan unless you were born here, you also cannot truly be a Texan unless you grew up here and were forged in the fires of social and familial scrutiny over just how “Texan” you successfully represent yourself to be.

So if you’re trying to “blend” or “pass” for Texan, give it up now. You can’t make it happen; you have to let it happen. Be yourself and we’ll respect you for that.

An original Yellow Prose blog entry, 2011.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Texas horned lizards lauded, loved in the Lone Star State

One of my sweetest childhood memories was catching horny toads.

The Texas horned lizard, commonly called a horny toad (or horned frog if you’re not from Texas), is one of our natural wonders here in the Lone Star State. It’s our official state reptile. But you won’t see ‘em much around here anymore. They’re now a threatened species in Texas.

If you’ve not seen one, you’ve missed out on what I think must be the missing link between dinosaurs and modern reptiles.

The Texas horned lizard is a daylight critter and it loves hot weather. The lizard sports an interesting paint job. It’s as if it couldn’t decide between leopard spots and tiger stripes…so it chose both. Unlike the sleek, tubular design of most other lizards, the horny toad is shaped like a prickly Frisbee. And, true to its name, the lizard (it’s neither frog nor toad), is covered in spikes or “horns.”

The expression on a horny toad’s face is that of…well…steely soulfulness. There’s a sweet resignation in their eyes. It is as if the little critter is saying, “Go on. Pick me up and love on me. Just not too much. I gotta go grub hunting in about twenty minutes. Don’t wanna be late, ya know.”

I think they look like the hybrid offspring of a porcupine, a teddy bear and a space alien.

We Texans don’t really know why our horned lizards are disappearing. It’s thought that the red imported fire ant, changes in land use and environmental contaminants have something to do with their decline. Mostly, it’s a mystery, kind of like the disappearance of the honey bee. It’s happening, but we have no clue as to what’s causing it.

My daughters have never seen a horned lizard, and this breaks my heart. I was just about their age when I chased them in our backyard (they were 3 years old when I wrote this column). I remember how soft their underbellies were and how they seemed to be pretty patient with toddlers handling them.

Texas horned lizards will swell up like a puffer fish or squirt blood out of their eyes to scare off predators, but I never got squirted or swelled up on, probably because I let them go as soon as I caught them.

I wouldn’t mind having some horned lizards around my place. They love to eat ants, particularly harvester ants, but they’ll also munch grubs, beetles, spiders and grasshoppers.

Kind of a nice neighbor to have, if you think about it.

Texans think so highly of the horned lizard that Texas Christian University in Fort Worth made it their mascot. Before you laugh, please note that the TCU Horned Frogs are a force with which to be reckoned in athletics as well as academics. And they’re the only Texans allowed to call it a “horned frog” and not a “horny toad.” It’s their mascot; they can call it anything they want.

Writer O. Henry honored the Texas horned lizard in his tale, Jimmy Hayes and Muriel. Texas Ranger Jimmy Hayes introduces his “lady friend,” Muriel, sporting a red ribbon tied around her neck, to his buddies. Muriel, of course, is a horny toad.

“This here Muriel," said Hayes, with an oratorical wave of his hand, "has got qualities. She never talks back, she always stays at home, and she's satisfied with one red dress for every day and Sunday, too.”

Muriel was a good sport, even when Hayes calls her an “antediluvian handful of animated carpet-tacks.”

I had to go look up “antediluvian.” It means the time between Creation and the Great Flood in the Old Testament of the Bible.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will tell you that it elevates the horned lizard to quite an honored place. In the end, Muriel speaks for Jimmy Hayes and his bravery when he can’t. And, yeah, you better have the tissues handy when you read it.

Frankly, I don’t know of a lizard more celebrated for its existence or endowed with more noble qualities than ol’ Phrynosoma cornutum, the most notable of which is the Texas horned lizard of Eastland County, Old Rip.

Supposedly, Old Rip got himself tombed up in the cornerstone of the Eastland County Courthouse in 1897. Some 31 years later, when the courthouse was torn down, the little horned lizard was found alive, and named for Rip van Winkle for having “slept” for so long. Of course, skeptics said the whole thing was an elaborate hoax and that’s probably true, but to Texans, it really didn’t matter. The little reptile had won our hearts and he became a bona fide celebrity, rubbing scaly elbows with the likes of President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

A year later, Old Rip succumbed to pneumonia and was sent to the Great Reptilian Beyond complete with funeral and velvet lined coffin. His embalmed body is on display, ala Vladmir Lenin, at the courthouse. Even posthumously, Old Rip went on to have other adventures, including an unfortunate amputation at the hands of a former Texas governor and having been “toadnapped” once or twice. He’s now very closely guarded by Eastland County officials.

Eccentricities aside, we Texans love our horny toads mostly because the lizards remind us of the best parts of our childhoods. Show us a horny toad, and we’ll coo and croon over it like a puppy or a kitten, and then recite about half a dozen personal anecdotes about horned lizards we once knew.

I’m pretty certain no other a scaly, spiky, bug-eating, cold-blooded critter on this planet enjoys that kind of high human regard.

First printed in The Fort Hood Sentinel, 2009.

Baptists, beer and bingo

It occurred to me today that, upon leaving the employment of the Army, I will be able to write my column (now a blog) about Texas topics hitherto forbidden by the rules and regulations of the United States Army.

Folks, I can now write about Baptists, beer and bingo.

I can even say things about the man Molly Ivins called "Governor Goodhair," Rick Perry. She was right. He has lovely hair. And I could call him that too.

I probably won't, but I can if I want to.

I can now say that nothing draws Southern Baptists out like new construction. I could probably have said that anyway, being as I am a Southern Baptist.

And, in true Southern Baptist fashion, I can talk about going out of town to do my drinking.

But I won't because I don't want to get kicked out of the church.

And bingo. I can write the word. Promoting "games of chance" is a big ol' no-no in the Army newspaper, but here on this blog I can talk about it. So here goes:


I really don't have anything else to say about it at this point about bingo or the Texas Lottery, but I can in the future.

I suppose what I'm saying here is that The Yellow Prose of Texas will be a little "edgier" (at least by Army standards) than Tex Messages was. And that somehow titillates me to no end.

By the way, I've never said "titillate" in the Army paper either. I thought it to be in poor taste and not within the operating standards of Army values. We do not "titillate" in the Army. It would be unconscionable.

I did, however, recently write in one of my final Tex Messages columns about the H-E-B grocery store chain and what the B in H-E-B stood for. I got to write "Butt" five times. So, in a way, I was able to "skirt the reg."

I'm so excited! I'm gonna go think up all kinds of controversial things to talk about, like Methodists and their casseroles, bathtub gin and spooning! I feel positively scandalous!

An original Yellow Prose blog entry, 2011.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nature's tanks

Those up-armored raccoons you’ve been seeing around your neighborhood aren’t raccoons.

They’re armadillos.

If you’re new to Texas, please accept this native Texan’s personal, warm welcome to the greatest state in the union and consider this your first lesson in recognizing and understanding our native Texas fauna.

First, the armadillo lying in the road flat as a flapjack was not born that way. The ‘dillo, like the Earth, is not flat. They are near-sighted, however, which is why they’ve earned the name Texas speed bump.

Second, they are not the hybrid offspring of Bradley armored vehicles and sewer rats, despite their appearance, but they are closely related to sloths and anteaters.

Third, they love flowerbeds and gardens.

My friend Chris Haug got a real education in the nature of these funny looking critters my father called “poor man’s pig.”

Chris had a really big ‘dillo (pronounced “dillah” if you’re from Texas) coming to visit his yard in the nocturnal hours. He tried spooking the thing and the Family cocker spaniel tried to run it off.

The dog’s venture was exciting, if unsuccessful.

Apparently, when the dog went to greet the ‘dillo, the ‘dillo stood up to greet the dog.

Chris never said if Molly needed therapy after that but he did say he was ready to lose his own mind. His yard, he said, looked like golfers had been through it, leaving divots everywhere.

I contacted Gil Eckrich, outreach coordinator at the Natural Resource Management Branch on Fort Hood to find out how to handle a nearsighted, slow-moving, grubbivorous mini-tank rooting around in the petunias at oh-gosh-thirty in the middle of the night.

Gil said great horned owls are known to eat armadillos. He said he watched one crack a ‘dillo open one night. Short of encouraging owls to hang out in the backyard, a stout fence stuck about 12-14 inches into the ground can help keep ‘dillos out, but if the animal is determined enough, it might dig right under it anyway.

I searched for armadillos on the Internet and came across a Michigan State University site ( which recommended using smell to ward them off.

“Simply make the areas they dig in smell bad to the armadillo,” it said. “Armadillos have sensitive noses.…Anything with a strong, noxious odor can help evict an armadillo from a den. Mothballs have been used successfully in the past, and some armadillos do not like the smell of pine needles or pine mulch. Placing mothballs around the areas you most want to protect can keep pesky burrowers away.”

This Web site made me think: why in the heck would anyone in Michigan know anything about armadillos? They don’t range much further north than Kansas and parts of Missouri.

The author, Joshua Nixon, holds a Ph.D in zoology from MSU and currently lives in Minneapolis, Minn.

“Despite my longstanding interest in armadillos, I have never studied them professionally,” he wrote. “My own research has focused on the circadian control of behavior in rodents.”

I wondered if Dr. Nixon’s methods of armadillo eviction work, especially since he’s probably not had too many encounters with the animals.

In the meantime, Chris’ armadillo problem was solved. As I was putting the finishing touches on this story, he told me he and his wife, Diana, found the ‘dillo mashed flat on their neighborhood street. It had been run over by a car.

The problem was gone, but Chris seemed a little sad when he told me that. I think he kind of grew accustomed to his armored visitor.

First printed in The Fort Hood Sentinel, 2008.

Dove season in Texas means hunting, dating, grilling

September is dove hunting season. I’m telling y’all this because dove hunting is almost as sacred to Texans as deer season. In fact, I’d venture to say that real Texans would equate it with deer hunting. I’ve heard Texas has the most doves in the country and Central Texas is the favorite roosting spot.

I remember going dove hunting once with my father. I couldn’t have been more than 4 years old at the time. I don’t remember much except Daddy collecting a bird he’d killed. It was a slightly disturbing moment in a Hannibal Lecter kind of way, so I’ll spare y’all the details.
One Thanksgiving at my paternal grandmother’s house, we had doves for breakfast. It was the coolest thing ever in my kid mind. And tasty. I think Gammy roasted them. I remember her bacon breakfast gravy served with it.

Excuse me while I mop the drool off my computer keyboard…

I once went on a dove hunt with a fella I dated in college. It must’ve been true love. I sat out in the sweltering heat with this guy, 12-gauge shotgun across my knees, waiting for birds. When they finally did fly by, it was almost at the speed of sound. Doves are fast in a Chuck Yeager/Bell X-1 kind of way. The trick in hittin’ ‘em is to lead ‘em with the gun. Aim where you think the bird’s gonna fly, not where it actually is. It’s a peculiar physics equation which rests on the theory that it’s better to have the bird fly into the shot instead of actually shooting the bird. Did the shot hit the bird? Or did the bird hit the shot?

I didn’t hit squat. I haven’t hunted since.

Mostly, I don’t go because you have to get up at an indecent hour, it’s hot and you have to be really still while waiting on the birds. This girly-cowgirl does not consider standing still, pouring sweat and holding a shotgun any kind of fun.

Fort Hood Sentinel news editor, Heather Graham-Ashley, however is way better at the hunt than I am.
She had real success a while back. She managed to hit a bird. Of course, it was sitting on a power line and it took five shots to get the thing. Her hunting buddy said Heather actually scared the thing to death, rather than shot it.

Heather is undaunted. She’s been practicing with skeet and managed to annihilate two of them. If I ever take up skeet hunting, she’s my first choice of partner.

I read this in Texas Monthly and laughed: “When the birds fall, immediately find your way to them (or send a retrieving dog if you have one trained).”

The sentence, read aloud, sounds positively hoity-toity.

I’m trying to picture my grandfather’s mutt, Ruff, on a dove hunt out in the pasture by the tank. GP’s dog was part collie, part German shepherd, part goat and all hairy canine macho bravado. He’d have had the bird eaten before it hit the ground. Ruff was a dog with which to be reckoned, as one hapless driver along the stretch of dirt road in front of GP and Gammy’s house learned.

This fella was driving a red, convertible something…a Corvair, probably. He was not going fast and Ruff took out after him, barking. The guy clearly did not acknowledge the dog to the dog’s satisfaction, so Ruff jumped up on the driver’s side, front paws on the door and introduced himself with a resolute, “RAWR!RAWR!RAWR!” in the driver’s face.

That the man and his car did not end up in a ditch is still a mystery.

I can’t really imagine hunting with dogs. Some of the fathers of my high school friends trained retrievers and used them with a great deal of success. Their fathers could wax intelligently about their dogs’ bloodlines and the training techniques that worked best with them. My father was just happy none of our dogs bit the electric meter readers on their monthly visits.

Beyond doves, there are other game birds to be hunted in Texas. Turkey, duck, goose, prairie chickens, moorhens, purple gallinules, pheasant, quail, sandhill cranes, rails, Wilson’s snipe (yes, by golly, a real snipe hunt can be had!) and something called a plain chachalaca are all available at various times of the year.

While writing this column, I just had to look up chachalacas to satisfy my curiosity. In the U.S., they are found only in South Texas (far South, by the way) and they look like a cross between a dove and a chicken. The bird’s name comes from their horrible call. Look the bird up online sometime and listen. The call is described as sounding like “CHAK-A-LAK! CHAK-A-LAK! CHAK-A-LAK!” I think it sounds more like Phyllis Diller hollering, “ROB A BANK! ROB A BANK! ROB A BANK!”
I can’t imagine them making good eating and I couldn’t find recipes online.

Speaking of eating, if you do not hunt but you do like eating game birds, find a Texas hunter and make friends. The accomplished dove hunter will always bag more than he (or she) can eat and sharing is a tradition. Try grilled dove stuffed with jalapeno peppers. It’ll change your life.

First printed in Tex Messages, The Fort Hood Sentinel, 2009.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mum’s the word: What are those big ol’ flowers girls wear at the homecoming football game?

Awhile back I addressed the whole high school/college football homecoming mum phenomenon that’s evidently a Texas-only kind of thing. Sure enough, one of my gal pals, Juls, who is not from Texas, shot an e mail about ‘em out to our little gang of four very close friends, and the e mail traffic was just too good not to publish for all y’all.

Juls wrote: “I worked today selling homecoming mums for a fundraiser at Jasmin's school. While I've seen these elaborate ‘things’ at (a craft store) before, I've never known what they are. We never had anything like this up north so I don't really understand it. I got roped into selling them but I don't really get it. What are they FOR? I'd love to hear your take on this Texas tradition.”

Our resident super-Texan (other than myself, of course), Chris, wrote: “Mums are a cheap flower that give you a lot of bang for your buck. We, at Fairfield High School, have the school colors of maroon and gold, therefore we have mums in those colors to use as bases. We also use white, but usually only old ladies wear the white ones. They are used to show school spirit during Homecoming Week; at least that is how it started out.
“When I was in school, it was the gauge you used to measure the love your boyfriend had for you,” she continued. “The bigger and gaudier your mum was, the more he loved you. I do believe it was during the 1980s when mums started getting out of hand.
“I know one girl who had a triple mum: 3 HUGE maroon mums, pipe cleaner F H S letters glued on top of them, covered in net (helps keep the petals from dropping) and about 20 glitter-lettered ribbons hanging from the bottom of it, conveying messages from ‘GO EAGLES,’ ‘HOMECOMING 1980,’ ‘SENIOR 1981,’ ‘FLAG CORPS,’ ‘BAND,’ ‘RODEO CLUB,’ and the ever important, ‘JOHN LOVES BECKY,’ plus love knot ribbons, braided ribbons, ribbons with tiny gold footballs, tiny cow bells, tiny football helmets, horseshoes; if they made it into a plastic charm, it was dangling from that mum. The ribbons hung to the top of her boots. I, being the sweetheart I am, told her she looked like a @#*&$% bush, and to take that ugly @#*&$% thing off before we hit the field for halftime (I was Flag Corps Captain).
“When Sabrina was in high school, mums went all high tech with tiny battery powered lights that illuminated your mum. Ours in the 1980s ranged in price from about $15-$50. I think I paid around $120 for the one Aubrey got Emily his senior year, and it isn't unheard of for them to go for $200 a pop now a days.”

Niki wrote: “I've MADE mums that cost $250 in materials alone - that was 3 years ago!
“Mums are a way for people to show their importance in today's high school society - not even love of a boyfriend/girlfriend anymore. Parents give them to their kids, friend to friend, significant other to significant other - whatever.
“Our district still emphasizes the white mums, but then again, our colors are Columbia blue, red and white. They're just outlandish these days with stuffed animals and junk all over them; LED lights (are) in the flowers and braided into the hanging ribbons.”

“Oh…and you have to save the mums for all eternity afterward,” I added. “You keep ‘em hung up in your bedroom until they completely fall apart or the moths eat ‘em.”

Juls responded: “Thank you for filling me in on these. I knew you gals would have better insight into these things than I ever could. I saw them done in north Texas as well as here, but nowhere else so I think this is just a Texas thing.
“Because this is the first year they are being done at Jasmin's school (at least since the last 5 years) some of the kids had the same question, ‘What are they FOR?’ The mums we are making use a fake silk flower mum (you can choose what size and single or double) and ribbons and the ‘basic’ trinket package. The base mum is $45 which I'm told is a steal.
“I am curious; why chrysanthemums, though? I have always associated mums with funerals. Every family funeral I've ever been to I've come home with pots of chrysanthemums.”

Chris answered: “‘Cause they are cheap to buy fresh, they are in season and they last along time out of water. When this first started, there weren’t any silk mums.”

And that’s where the conversation ended. I must interject here that I am appalled that a TEXAS high school would curtail the mum tradition. An entire era of Texas high school students went without mums. I think that’s shameful.

But then, Juls lives in Houston. I’m just glad the school administration and parents saw the light before it was too late.

I don’t follow the series, mostly because I am horrified by the way the Hollywood entertainment machine boogers up all things Texan, but I am surprised the series “Friday Night Lights” (set in West Texas and allegedly all about Texas high school football) hasn’t addressed the all-important homecoming mum issue. It is, after all, very central to Texas high school football culture.

But then that would require Hollywood to actually understand Texas in the first place, and folks, that’s not happening anytime soon.


First printed in Tex Messages, The Fort Hood Sentinel, 2009.

The Texas feminine culture, ritual of football explained

Football season is upon us. I can’t explain the sport to you, in spite of my Texas heritage. It was never a religion in my home when I was growing up. But, I can explain some of the culture and ritual involved with attending football games.

For Texas women, a football game is more than a sport. It’s a chance to showcase ourselves.

Football season is an opportunity to show off your wardrobe and how well you accessorize. It’s a social event during which to forge feminine friendships. And it’s a real good place to swap gossip.

Whether it’s a high school or university game, you will see Texas women all decked out in their casual finery. Every Hawkins High School football game to which I went, I never attended without my hair being perfect and having my lipstick on. Like my friends, I carried an arsenal of cosmetics in my purse for touch ups. To this day, I can draw my compact out of my handbag faster than a gunslinger can draw his pistol. You learn to be fast with the goods, lest you miss a play on the field.

At Austin College, we were pretty casual at our football games. Afternoon games in the late summer made it necessary to dress for comfort, but that didn’t mean we had to sacrifice style. My sorority and I attended in our jerseys and designer jeans. This was in the 1980s, so of course no hairdo was complete without a big bow that matched our Theta Sigma Chi jerseys. This showing of the Greekness was a prelude to spring rush. We only held rush in the spring at AC, so the fall was spent looking as good as possible to potential members. It was all about the marketing and public relations and pretty girls draw in other pretty girls. And pretty girls are always at football games. This is where we got the skinny on who was going to rush whom, what happened after the previous night’s party and which college professor was not getting tenure. We also got to eyeball rival sororities and what they were up to.

I went to work for Texas A&M University in the early 1990s. Attending football games was not a requirement, but I went. I mean, this is Aggie football after all. And the women were drop-dead gorgeous. Slim, long denim pencil skirts, English riding boots and Ralph Lauren turtlenecks, Dooney & Bourke handbags, designer sunglasses…the works. The women rooting for the opposing teams, if they were Texas schools, also were gorgeously attired. In 1991, it was the height of female football fashion.

The Texas-University of Oklahoma weekend is another big fashion event. I don’t mean among the unwashed masses that descend on Dallas streets every October…no. I’m talking about expensive hotel suites with large screen televisions and catered eats. I went to one of these parties while still in college. My then-boyfriend’s parents sent out engraved invitations to the 1986 Red River Shootout soiree, held at the Fairmont Hotel. Attire: high casual in team colors. No kidding, folks; that was printed on the invitation.

I can’t talk about football fashion without mentioning the enigmatic homecoming mum. My non-Texan friends continually ask, “What the heck is up with those gigantic homecoming mums?”

It’s a mystery, y’all, but I’ll try to shed some light.

Football homecoming mums are a Texas tradition, and I’ve heard that Oklahoma does it too. Essentially, the mums are flowers worn as a corsage to homecoming football games.

They have been around as long as I can remember and the mums represent the admiration a young woman inspires in people who know her. The size of the flower in the center of the mass of ribbons in school colors directly correlates to how much a fella loves his girl. The bigger the mum, the greater the love. The more mums a gal has, the more fellas who think she’s the cat’s pajamas.

The center flower is a giant, white chrysanthemum usually made of silk and sprayed with glitter. Some mums sport teddy bears in the center. Usually, the ribbons have names and messages on them in glitter letters. The ribbons also have a dozen or so plastic and metal trinkets, especially mini-cowbells, interspersed among them. The result is a bizarre mass of flower and foof that looks like a cross between a parade float and a space ship.

Our 1983 Hawkins High School homecoming queen had so many mums on her, she looked like she was wearing Bjork’s swan dress from the 2001 Oscars. I’ve seen girls hunched over from the weight of their mums, trying to walk up the bleacher steps without tripping over the great gobs of ribbons trailing behind them.

Whether a gal receives a mum on homecoming from her beau determines whether the relationship will last. My first college boyfriend neglected to get me a homecoming mum and got dumped shortly thereafter. Y’all might think that’s shallow, but he and I had an understanding and he breached a sacred tradition of Texas coupledom by omitting this gesture. By not remembering me with that goofy flower, he pretty much said, “I don’t love you and I don’t care if I hurt your feelings.”

I have never forgiven him, and twenty years later, we still do not speak to each other.
The female side of football is complicated. You’re better off not trying to understand it beyond the observance of ritual and symbolism.

If you’re a fella courting a Texas woman, be real sure you let her have plenty of time to get ready to go to the game (she’ll need about 2.5 hours for hair and makeup) and be real sure you don’t forget the flowers.

Your relationship depends on it.

First printed in Tex Messages, The Fort Hood Sentinel, 2009.