Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Texas means friendship, courage, tolerance in the face of growth, development

Killeen is growing.

I realize that’s not news, but it just hit me how fast Killeen and Fort Hood are growing. So are Temple, Belton, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove and—oh gosh—even Nolanville.

Salado remains safe. For the moment, that is.

Yes, I realize I’m saying this like it’s a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing. But for this Texan, it’s bittersweet.

While driving past pastures alongside Highway 190 on my way to work Monday, I saw cattle grazing and tin barns…and construction signs. Just about six years ago when I moved to this area, there wasn’t as much development here as there is now.

Along with development comes people, and that means people from places other than Texas. I’m OK with that. I just don’t want Texas to lose its “Texan-ness.”

One of the things I hear most from folks who come from some place not Texas is that Texans are the kind of people who--when your fence is down and your cows are out—will go round up your cows and fix your fence, then drop by to tell you what they did in case you want to check your fence line for weaknesses. Even now, some three centuries after the state has been settled, Texans carry on this tradition of friendship and neighborliness. In fact, the name Texas comes from a Native American word for “friendship” that the Spanish explorers heard as “Tejas.”

That’s a pretty wonderful name to have.

I don’t want us to lose that as we move toward a more urban environment.

I say all this because I recently saw a story on the news that touched me. A reporter set up a situation with actors in a Texas restaurant involving a particularly sensitive topic. I won’t get into the whys and wherefores of the situation; it’s enough to say that the reporter was testing a stereotype about Texans. What he found was that Texans proved ourselves to be the kind of people who won’t stand for others being treated poorly.

The same test was done in another state with very different results. Out of 100 of those folks, less than a dozen spoke up against the maltreatment of others. Out of 53 Texans, 24 stood up to be counted. When asked why they didn’t speak up, the non-Texans all said, “It just wasn’t our business.”

The Texans, however, said this: “Nobody should be treated badly by anybody else. It’s just not right. We might not agree with them, but we sure don’t want to see them hurt.”

I’m not putting the people from the other state down for not getting involved. It’s an understandable reaction. It’s a regional difference. It’s how they do things up there and it works for them. No criticism intended at all. It’s just that Texans have a tradition of friendliness and acceptance of others and I was glad to see it being practiced all up front and honest in the way we do things here. That reputation has been downplayed in favor of ridiculing us for our “backward” ways. The reporter even said he was surprised that the Texans were so kind and accepting. I admit, that smarted a little to hear his bias spoken openly, but I was moved that he could finally see the Texans that I know and have always known.

I think, in many ways, the increase of people from other places has only added to our friendliness. We have become exposed to things, ideas and people from elsewhere and it has made us adapt in very positive ways. We’ve opened our arms to others and those who have responded in kind have changed us…for the better.

If it’s true that it’s the people that make a place, then I have to say thank you to all y’all who have contributed your part to making it that way.

So as I watch all the construction and growth happening in Central Texas, I’ll look at it for what it promises: hope, prosperity and acceptance.

And most especially, friendship.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Texas myths, stereotypes dispelled, truth told

Y’all, nothing puts a burr under my saddle more than the stereotypes perpetuated about Texans.

I did not watch the 1980s serial drama, Dallas, when it was on. I will not watch it in syndication. It is offensive to me, as a Texan.

Hollywood and the media regularly disgust me with their portrayals of Texans. About the only non-Texan to get “Texas” right was Nobel-prize-winning author, John Steinbeck. He had no choice; he was married to a Texan. Elaine Anderson Scott Steinbeck, he said, was virtually Texas, as every Texan is. The man did his best to tell the truth about Texas and Texans, yet very unflattering myths that have grown up like Johnson grass around us remain.

Clearly, the torch has been passed to me, so let me attempt to share a sampling of what is—and is not—Texan.

Myth 1: Texans are uneducated.

Truth: There are more than 200 colleges and universities in the state of Texas. Speaking for my own family, more than half of all of my extended family have graduate degrees. Texas also is home to some prominent preparatory schools. Hockaday and Saint Mark’s in Dallas are the first that come to my mind. It was Lyndon B. Johnson, our 36th President and a Texan who signed the Higher Education Act of 1965, which focused on funding for lower income students, including grants, work-study money, and government loans. With regard to education, public or private, we Texans contemplate our collective navels a lot, to the point of driving ourselves bug nuts crazy. That being said, one can lead a horse to water, but one cannot make it drink. The same can be said of education. If you didn’t get a good education in Texas, it’s because you didn’t want one bad enough…and folks, education is not something you’re spoon-fed. It requires your active participation.

Myth 2: All Texans are rich.

Truth: Only a very privileged few Texans have personal fortunes of legendary proportions. The age of H.L. Hunt has long since passed and even the King Ranch mostly has gone corporate. I think I read somewhere that Idaho has more millionaires per capita than any other state in the union. Even so, if a Texan is filthy rich, he or she is likely not going to flaunt it. That would be tacky. A person’s wealth is a private matter. Unless you are getting married to him or her, it is not up for discussion.

Myth 3: Texas is all desert.

Truth: Texas has a variety of landscapes, including, but not restricted to, desert. Where I grew up in East Texas looked more like the Deep South than something out of a John Wayne movie. And we do get rain, this summer notwithstanding. Four summers ago, we got a frog-strangler of epic proportions. The Mill Creek Golf Course in Salado was unplayable for at least a week afterward and the subsequent toad take-over of my flower beds remained for two years afterward.

Myth 4: All Texans are brassy, loud and obnoxious.

Truth: I don’t personally know anyone on the level of J.R. Ewing or “Good Time” Charlie Wilson. They’re more exceptions than rule in this state. Most Texans I know are people of few, but well-chosen words. The stoic, silent cowboy riding alone on the range is far more accurate than J.R. By the way, I met Larry Hagman once in Dallas at the Fairmont Hotel during the Walt Garrison Rodeo Ball fourteen years ago. He was very sweet and we had a nice conversation about his work on I Dream of Jeannie.

Myth 5: Every Texan owns a gun.

Truth: Many of us do not. I don’t. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with them; I’m not. It’s just that I have not yet acquired one of my own. And I’ve yet to figure out how to fit a shotgun in my purse.

Myth 6: That awful accent.

Truth: Y’all…let’s be real honest here. Texas has not cornered the market on the butchery of American Standard English. In fact, some really poor use of grammar and pronunciation comes from well north of the Mason-Dixon Line and it’s time to admit it. Pinning it all on us is not going to deflect attention from the fact that some non-Texans sound like geese flying south for the winter and trashy to boot. Let’s all just put this to rest right now. Speaking for myself, I’ve relaxed my writing standards for artistic reasons to suit this column and so I can talk to you like kinfolk. I let fly some pretty colorful colloquialisms in my own speech only to make a point or draw the proverbial line in the sand ala Col. Travis at the Alamo. But when I get in front of an audience, it’s all pure American Standard English.

Myth 7: November 22, 1963.

Truth: This is a very touchy subject for Texans. Please don’t forget that he was our president, too. And we mourned his loss as much as other Americans. Conspiracy theories aside, one man was responsible…and, though Lee Harvey Oswald was a Dallas resident at the time, he was not from Texas and he certainly did not represent Texans. Enough said.

Myth 8: Every Texan drives an expensive car with longhorn horns on the hood.

Truth: That’s just about the stupidest thing ever. When you see that abomination tooling down the highway, please know that the driver probably is not from Texas.

Myth 9: All women in Texas have “big hair.”

Truth: I devoted an entire column to this subject last fall. Not all of us sport big, ol’ hair and buy hairspray by the case. I’d say the majority of us try to stay current with national trends. The 1960s-mid-1990s were a dark time for hairstyles nationwide. They’re over now. We’ve evolved.

Myth 10: Everybody eats barbecue.

Truth: In Texas, chili and brisket are the reigning monarchs, Tex-Mex is the crown prince and barbecue is visiting nobility. Barbecue really is a Southern thing. What Texans occasionally call "barbecue" is actually brisket. Personally, I can’t stomach barbecue because so much is prepared so badly. I once was asked about where to find good barbecue by a 1st Infantry Division sergeant from North Carolina. “Memphis,” I said. "If you want the good stuff, you need to go to Llano and ask for brisket."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Texans are sentimental about their dogs

A Texan’s relationship with his or her dog is sacred.

Texas is home to famous fictional dogs, Hank the Cowdog and Old Yeller. And speaking of Old Yeller, if you have a dog, keep your fur buddy up on his or her rabies vaccinations. Texas also has the one of the worst reputations for rabies outbreaks. Nobody wants to have to put a good dog down.

Texans have special relationships with dogs, probably because we’re a sentimental people. And we almost always have a dog story to share.

To refer to a person as a dog for the way he or she behaves often is an insult to dogs. Aside from the fact that their culinary choices are rather edgy, they consider rolling in a rotted carcass the equivalent of applying haute couture perfume and they have a habit of getting a little too familiar when they first meet you, dogs are an honorable lot.

Dogs love unconditionally. Texans appreciate that.

My husband, Frank, and I have three dogs. Miko is an American Kennel Club registered black Labrador Retriever; Fidel is long-coat Chihuahua, and Daisy is a miniature Dachshund. We had a fourth dog at one time. Mary was part beagle and part sneaky neighbor’s dog which earned her the moniker “boggle.” When anyone came to visit us, Miko, Fidel, and Daisy barked and Mary shrieked and then did that beagle bay for which they’re famous. The reception sounded like, “Woof! Woof! SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! AARROOOOOOOO!!!! Woof! SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! Woof! AROOOOOOO!!! Woof!”

Dogs can make you feel like a rock star. If you closed your eyes and listened, Mary sounded like a teen-aged girl at a Jonas Brothers concert. Mary died a couple of years ago. Coming home hasn't been the same since.

When they were kids, Daddy and his brothers had a terrier-mix mutt named Cagey. He was ugly as sin and terribly smart. Of all the dogs my father told tales about, Cagey was number one.

Cagey survived snakes, spiders, playing dress up with my then-six year old aunt and table scraps only to be poisoned by a neighbor who wrongly assumed the dog was responsible for killing some of his chickens.

Ruff was another family farm dog who was fondly regarded and remembered. Ruff looked like the love child of a German shepherd and a 75-pound dust bunny. He liked to chase cars, particularly convertibles because they couldn’t get up much speed on rural dirt roads and he could get up close and personal with the drivers.

My parents favored German shepherds. Hoot was our first. They had him before they had me.

Hoot fancied himself a lifeguard. When my mother’s brothers came to San Marcos to visit my parents, they spent a day swimming in the Blanco River. At least, the boys tried to swim. Hoot kept jumping in after them and “saving” them. He’d grab their T-shirts by the collars and drag them back to shore.

Ilsa was the first female German shepherd we had and was famous for her “green dewclaw” (dogs don’t have thumbs). Daddy brought home some bois d’arc apples with the intent of planting them in the backyard. Ilsa thought they were balls, kept one, gnawed it, shredded it, then buried it and “watered” it herself. Her tree still stands nearly 30 years later.

Chance was among the last German shepherds my parents had. He had a cleanliness obsession that bordered on an obsessive-compulsive disorder. When he wanted a bath, he’d drag out a No. 10 washtub and sit in it, waiting for my father to come out. He also loved having his fur blown with air from a hose. He’d grab my father’s air tank by the hose and drag it around the backyard until he got satisfaction.

Hope, another German shepherd, was Chance’s own dog. My parents acquired her in the “hope” that Chance would have a playmate to keep him occupied (a bored dog is often a destructive dog). She, too, had a quirk in that when she got excited, she’d bark at the ground.

If dirt were to break into the house, I suppose Hope would have defended us valiantly.

I’m a cat person, but I have had some good dogs in my time, too. Maggie was a Whippet/Labrador retriever mix who came to live with me when she wandered up on my back porch and mooched a hamburger from me during a cookout. We ended up spending ten years together. When I cried, she’d lay her head in my lap and try to comfort me. I never knew any other dog to do that.

Snoopy was a Chihuahua/Schipperke mix. For the record, I didn’t name him. He had been part of a pair of dogs, the other being his littermate who was named Charlie Brown. Snoopy had some issues when he came to me; he’d been pretty badly abused by the husband of his previous owner. Snoopy never let a man into my house without inspecting him thoroughly and showing him his teeth four or five times first. He was eight pounds of raw courage and never hesitated to defend my honor.

Dogs aren’t people, but they sure merit respect, as have many of the animals I’ve known and loved in my time. I honestly don’t understand people who don’t like them. To be honest, I prefer dogs to people when it comes right down to it.

I remember, as a child, sitting in church and listening to a sermon during which the pastor said animals didn’t have souls. I was horrified. Why would God make a living thing without a soul?

It was then that my father leaned over and whispered, “Brother Paul must’ve never had a dog.”

Friday, February 8, 2013

Boot-scooting explained

I grew up dancing, even though I was raised Southern Baptist. Even my Southern Baptist father was known to cut a rug.

He was a Texan, after all. So we danced, but not in drinking establishments. That was right out. If I admit to ever having been in a “honky tonk,” or country and western bar, my father will rise from his grave and haunt me forever, so for the purposes of this blog, we shall refer to them as “dancing establishments.”

So what exactly are the dances we do when we go “boot-scootin’?”

The primary dances with which I grew up were the Waltz and the Texas Two-Step, though we simply called it the Two-Step. Only people from out-of-state call it the Texas Two-Step. I never knew there was any other kind until I lived in Montana for about 3 months.

I remember sitting in a “dancing establishment” watching Montanans hop around like they were stomping fire ants and wondering what they called their peculiar brand of choreography.

It was a two-step.

I was shocked. It looked more like they were trying to get the circulation back in their legs and, considering that it was November and practically Arctic outside, the theory made sense. But I was advised that they danced like this in the heat of summer up there, too.

Clearly our Montana brethren follow a different terpsichorean muse.

Let’s get back to Texas.

Down here, when one “two-steps,” one remains static above the knees and slides rather than hops while dancing the Two-Step, which is why we call it “boot-scootin’.” Regardless of a song’s tempo, the dance is versatile and, when in doubt as to how to move to a song, the Two-Step often is the answer. More than that, it is about the only dance that lets a man maintain a James Dean aura of “cool” while he shakes his tail-feathers.

The Waltz is, as it has ever been, the Waltz. If you need clarification on that one, consult your local ballroom dance school. If you’ve spent time in a “dancing establishment,” you also might have noticed that in addition to the Two-Step and the Waltz, there is the Cotton-Eyed Joe and the Schottische. The latter two dances generally are performed when closing time is nigh and everybody’s relaxed (euphemistically speaking). Both are performed one right after the other, with the Cotton-eyed Joe being first.

The Cotton-Eyed Joe, in my daddy’s day, was danced minus hollering a profane compound word used to refer to cow manure. I have a recording of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys performing the tune, and nowhere in it do I hear “(Bee Ess)” being shouted. Adolph Hofner and His San Antonians were the ones who made the song popular, and I don’t hear it in that recording either. So I have to assume this is a latter 20th Century addition to the dance. While I’m good at the dance, I think all that hollering is tacky, so I don’t do it.

Essentially, the Cotton-Eyed Joe is a line dance which consists of a mess of heel-to-toe polka steps and immense trust in your fellow dancers, since you link arms to do it.

This dance is followed by another line dance, the Schottische, which is German for “Scottish.” Confused yet? Just wait until you dance it.

The Schottische, as it is currently danced, uses four counts and requires a step, close-step, step movement. But on the fourth count, any step remotely polka-esque rests, and then at the very end of the beat, like a grace note, it calls for a quick hop as a sort of “preliminary” to the first count of the next measure. While in the Schottische, one hops deliberately and squarely on the fourth count.

I just wrote that and I’m confused too.

Scooting a boot in Texas is more about muscle-memory than formal training and just having a good time. You can take lessons, but until you just get out there and do it, you won’t understand it. Whether at the Rio Palm Isle in Longview or the Broken Spoke in Austin…or any other famous (and sometimes infamous) “dancing establishment,” someone will be happy to show you how to dance.