Most of you never set foot in Texas until just a few years ago, if not later.
I want to share with you the Texas that I knew growing up; the Texas I remember and try to preserve when I write this blog.
I remember the early 1970s in Texas. We just didn’t seem to have any of the same experiences of the rest of America. Not that I can recall, anyway, though I do remember a hippie or ten in Austin back then. They’re still there.
I remember a kinder, gentler Texas. It probably wasn’t—in fact, I’m certain it wasn’t--but that’s what I remember. Men still wore hats and tipped them when a woman passed them on the street. It was a straw hat in the spring and summer; a gray felt in the fall and winter.
I remember when we were more isolated; when the towns and cities of this state were spread farther apart than they are now. I remember a time when Interstate Highways 20, 35 and 45 were banked by mostly farmland and small towns. I remember riding at night in the car with my parents on a trip to my grandmother’s house and seeing nothing but stars in the sky. No light pollution for miles. Just stars. And in the daylight, the view was cattle, cotton and corn.
I remember life before convenience stores, when it was common to stop at a little country store with hardwood floors, screen doors and fountain drinks. Right up until the mid-1980s, they weren’t hard to find.
I remember going to the barn at my grandmother’s farm in Greenville and seeing my grandfather’s 1956 Ford parked there as if it were waiting for him to come start it up. It was two-tone turquoise and white. My uncle has it now. He got it up and running a few years ago. But my memories always will be of that car lovingly tucked away in the shelter of the tin barn next to the feed room.
I remember the smell and feel of raw cotton in that barn too. I remember it, all gathered up in the back of a wood-frame chicken wire trailer, about to be hauled to the gin.
I remember life before WalMart. We had Gibson’s. And it had everything. At least, to us it did.
We didn’t have fancy coffee shops, but we had city cafes and Southern Maid Donuts.
Dairy Queen was the social center of every small town.
I remember drive-in theaters. I went to see movies at them with my parents. The last one I went to was in Kerrville. I was performing at the Presbyterian Church camp, Mo Ranch, with students in our drama department from Austin College back in the summer of 1988. We went to the Bolero Drive-In when we weren’t scooting a boot at Crider’s in Ingram near the rodeo arena on a Saturday night after our shows. The theater owner did all the public address announcement himself:
“We’d like to welcome all y’all to the BO-LAIR-O Drive-In. Please feel free to visit our concession stand at any time deyurin’ the fee-chur presentation. The BO-LAIR-O is proud to present all first-release films for your viewin’ pleasure.”
I remember shelling peas on the front porch or in the kitchen with my grandmother. Of all my memories of her, the most precious are of her cooking. I remember that she got her first microwave oven along about 1978. We baked a cake in it one evening and it came out tasting pretty good.
“Not bad,” she said. “But I think I’ll just keep making them in a regular oven the way I always have.”
I remember when Tom Landry still coached the Dallas Cowboys. I remember Roger Staubach and Don Meredith. And, of course, Bob Lilly.
And I remember the Houston Oilers. You know them now as the Tennessee Titans.
I remember colleges and universities before many of them were absorbed into either the University of Texas or Texas A&M systems.By the way, that’s not a bad thing. I’m just saying that I remember. East Texas State University was where my parents went to college. They met there sometime around 1958. They married in 1961. The university is now Texas A&M University at Commerce.
I will always think of it as ETSU.
I remember standing at the ceremony when Texas Eastern University became the University of Texas at Tyler. My father was a professor there. And I got to see then-governor Bill Clements in person.
And I still think of UT-Tyler as TEU some four decades later.
I remember being taught that a person’s value was not in how much money they made or what they did for a living, but in “who” they were as a person. Their character and that of their family meant more than anything.
“Money might buy happiness. It might buy food, clothes and shelter,” my father said. “But it cannot buy class or honor. A man with money is just as likely to be without ethics as a man without.”
I remember Texas when there were more of us: homegrown, homespun and at home with the values of honesty, strength and courage. American values that transcend status and state boundaries.
So many of us native Texans are gone now, that those of us who remain are left to try to preserve some memory of Texas as it was.
Even as our state changes for the better due in part to the influx of outsiders, we hold it dear and try to preserve it as we remember it: larger than life and legend with stunning simplicity, stark beauty and…well, I just don’t really know what else to say. It was Texas. It is Texas. And, I pray, it will always be Texas.