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."