Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

For Texans, eccentricity is normal, valued, healthy

I have often heard people refer to Texans as eccentric.

“This state loves a maverick,” Kinky Friedman. Texas singer/songwriter/gubernatorial candidate said. “Always has.” I suppose that’s true.

The word “maverick” came from the surname of a Texan. Samuel Augustus Maverick was a Texas lawyer, politician and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. His name became synonymous with those who were independently minded, supposedly because he refused to brand his cattle.

Truthfully, Maverick didn’t brand his stock because he just wasn’t interested in ranching.

Still, the name stuck and it was in Texas that the maverick mystique was born.

Texas is full of independently minded people, so many in fact that Austin writer and performer Gene Fowler wrote a book entitled, Mavericks: A Gallery of Texas Characters, that addresses our more famous eccentric Texans. In Fowler’s book, “Commodore” Basil Muse Hatfield, first Admiral of the Trinity River, is profiled.

“It’s all right to lie about Texas,” Hatfield said, “Because it’ll be the truth tomorrow.”

Hatfield is remembered for having taken a barge down the Trinity River when others said it couldn’t be done. He ran, unsuccessfully for U.S. Senator in 1941. His platform: a five-ocean navy.

Examples of Texas eccentricity can be seen in Houston at the annual Art Car weekend. The 26th Annual Houston Art Car Parade will be held May 11, 2013. Cars and trucks of all makes and models are decorated in ways limited only by the artists’ imaginations. To see more of Houston out-weirding Austin, visit www.orangeshow.org/artcar.html.

Speaking of cars, the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo is home to ten Cadillacs half-buried, nose-down facing west. It was assembled in 1974 by Stanley Marsh III, helium millionaire, who owns the field in which the display stands. I can’t say there’s a point to the display, but it is something to talk about.

Commodore Hatfield, Friedman, the Art Car Parade and Cadillac Ranch are just a few famous examples of Texas bizarre behavior, but eccentric Texans aren’t necessarily of the headline-making variety.

When I take Highway 31 east to Tyler to see my family, I pass a piece of farm property marked by six toilets-turned-flower-pots outside the property gate. I have christened it “El Rancho de Seis Toilettas.” It took some kind of eccentric personality to decide, “Hey. I’ve got these six surplus toilet bowls. I think I’ll turn them into planters and put them outside my gate.”

Driving further along Highway 31 and into the town of Hubbard, there’s a big Victorian-era house on the main drag that is always decked out for whatever holiday happens to be approaching. Whether Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, this place looks like a party store threw up on the lawn. That level of decorating fidelity requires a homeowner to be retired or just a few tortilla shells shy of a taco dinner.

Eccentricity is not a bad thing at all and I certainly do not mean to imply that. Psychologists have begun to study eccentricity not as a behavioral defect, but as the mark of a more than well-adjusted individual who is happier and healthier mentally and physically than the “eccentricity-challenged.”

Eccentrics, notably Texas eccentrics, are just folks who know how to put on a show, have a good time and not give a hang about what the neighbors think.

Texans love their eccentric family members, so much so that we haul ‘em down from the attic and show ‘em off at dinner.

I have an uncle who is something of a mad scientist. He used to work at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. His specialty is optics. He’s quite good at it; even had a law of physics named for him with regard to beveling mirrors for lasers. He was on the committee for the American Society for Precision Engineering’s 24th annual meeting in October 2009 in Monterey, Calif. He is the president and chief executive officer of Dallas Optical Systems, Inc. Uncle J.M. also is our family eccentric. Nobody is better at telling funny stories than him. He’s a master of dead-pan, bizarre punch line comic timing, on par with Steven Wright and the late Mitch Hedberg.

My uncle was the one who, while in college, ended up on scholastic probation and got drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. While in the Army, J.M. took up boxing and was evidently pretty good at it, not that this is eccentric; it’s just interesting.

No one in the family is more talented at arc welding than J.M. He created all sorts of weird metal yard art way before it was in vogue.

In his youth, J.M. had been hit in the head with a golf club and thrown through the windshield of a car in an accident, blows to the head while boxing notwithstanding. He survived and ended up with degrees from the University of Texas. Yep. That’s Texan alright.

Marching to the beat of a different drummer is healthy. Non-conformists generally have a better outlook on life than most folks. Being a little weird is sometimes what it takes to survive when the world is not so kind.

I can’t point fingers at eccentric Texans without admitting that I am one. My eccentricity manifests itself every spring at a renaissance faire in Waxahachie. I’ve been doing it for seventeen years. To tromp around in period velvet garb in a muddy recreation of a 16th century English village, rain, snow or shine, performing improvisational street theatre takes either bravery or insanity and often a little of both. I couldn’t just join a civic theatre group to exercise my creative side. Nope. It had to be something of epic, eccentric, Texas-sized proportions.

It’s my therapy, and as any fellow eccentric Texan will tell you, doing what you love is the best kind of healing. Besides, it gives my relatives something to talk about and I always have an invitation to dinner from them.

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