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.