catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 11 :: 2007.06.01 — 2007.06.15


In a Lone Star state of mind

Home Is Where the Heart Is

H.L Mencken once noted, “A home is not a mere transient shelter; its essence lies in its permanence…” Or perhaps Dorothy said it best when she uttered, to the clicking of her ruby red shoes, “There’s no place like home.” Daily we’re reminded of what home is when we rub our feet on those ‘home is where the heart is’ mats. For me, home is Texas. I have a lot of pride in my home state. That’s not to say that we don’t have our moments of not-so0good. But, you’ll find a rich culture and history in Texas that’s worthy of some rumination. 

Perhaps it wasn’t as Billy Joel intended, but being in a “New York” state of mind applies to most any home-grown nostalgia. In this case, I’m in a “Texas” state of mind. Now I realize from the start that folks tend to have different inclinations and personal affinities in these sorts of conversations. I’ve seen and heard both spite and kinship when I mention that I was born and raised in Texas. However, this reflection is meant to explore the notions of home that we hold dear, to consider the finer qualities of Texas. A good example of spite would be here in my home of Philadelphia where I’ve lived for six of the past seven years. There’s a great sports rivalry between my hometown Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East. Of course I’m always quick to point out that despite their success over these past years, my Cowboys’ historical hand is full of Super Bowl rings, while the Eagles can’t seem to get one. They quickly turn to their 1960 championship, pre-Super Bowl era, and I congratulate them on being second rate.

Our sports are religion in Texas. High school football—or any football for that matter—is where it’s at in Texas. From our Friday night lights to our Sunday God-watching Cowboys we have some tradition in our sports, just like any other town and then some.

I realize the appreciation for Texas has both hills and valleys. Wherever you might fall in your feelings, you have to admit that Texas is a unique and eccentric place. Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836 and stood tall as the Republic of Texas until 1845 when it became the 28th state of the United States of America. Texans have a swagger in their step, in their disposition. Again, I realize my bias. It’s all I’ve ever known. I spent the first twenty-four years of my life in Texas. I appreciated my time in Texas. Yet it wasn’t until I moved away that I began to appreciate its finer points. For those of you who have never visited or don’t care to visit, take this reflection of mine as merely that, a reflection. Perhaps it might give you an itch and it’s up to you as to whether you want to scratch it.

Since I moved away, I’ve lived in the suburbs and city of Philadelphia, I’ve lived in New England, I’ve traveled to ten different countries, I’ve had two children, earned a Master’s degree, worked countless jobs, and then some. These years have only deepened my love for my home state of Texas. As cliché as some of our social colloquialisms are and as much as we might be inclined to roll our eyes, absence does make the heart grow fonder. This got me thinking, what is a home really? We all live and work in a particular city. It may or may not be where we were born but these places infuse to our sense of home. I and my wife Hope and daughters Cana and Thea consider Philadelphia a home of sorts. Many people can’t wait to leave and take root somewhere other than their home, to disown and reestablish themselves. I don’t think my family and I share this sentiment; but we have been aching for home and this summer we’re moving to Austin, Texas. Yeeeee Haaaaaa! 

The Pride

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard, though I’m willing to admit I haven’t lived in every region of the U.S. to justify my statement, pride exhibited as I hear in Texas. Again I realize the arbitrary relativism of my statement. Yet, when Texas becomes an adjective to front the word truck, I’m humored. Why is that most everywhere in Texas you see the Lone Star flying high and billowing in the wind? I have to tell you I’ve never driven around this region and seen the ole glory of the Keystone State dancing in the breeze. Nor have I heard the Ford Company front their marketing with ‘Pennsylvania Truck’.

There’s something about Texas. Call it pride. Call it arrogance. Call it what you want but you have to admit the unique invite of this massive state. Texas is second in land mass behind Alaska and in population behind California. So massive in fact, it motivated me to figure out what a drive from corner to corner might be like. As you may know you can drive five hours in any direction from Philadelphia and hit New Jersey, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, West Virginia, etc. etc! From Austin Texas I can drive five hours in any direction and all I’ve got is Texas. In fact, according to our internet map systems (the ones we curse on long trips), it would take fifteen hours to drive from the northwestern tip of the panhandle to the southernmost tip of Brownsville. It would take more than thirteen hours to drive from the western point of El Paso to the northeastern tip of Texarkana. Just for comparison’s sake, it would take just over twelve hours to drive from San Diego to the lovely state of Oregon. Any state the size of Texas should have at least a little bit of pride.

The Food

How can we talk about Texas and not mention food. From the BBQ debate, to Tex-Mex, to steaks and beyond, we got some sensory concoctions that’ll do everything from soothe you to make you sweat. First, let’s enter the BBQ debate a bit. For those who aren’t initiated, here’s a brief snapshot. In the BBQ world you got Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, and Carolina. Sure there are folks who’d like to enter the debate but they all tend to stem from these arenas. It’ll always be arbitrary to taste, but here’s the crux. You got style of cooking from gas to charcoal to wood burning, etc. Then you got your meat of choice typically pork or beef, we can include chicken if you like, and style from brisket to ribs, etc. Then we have portion, all large and still not enough, and then we got sides from potato salad to macaroni to pickles to cornbread, etc. Then you got your sauces from sweet to none (you will find joints that don’t serve sauce because it takes away from the flavor of the meat). You even got your spelling issues from barbecue to barbeque to BBQ to Bar-B-Q (I didn’t even get a prompt to spell check any of these). The point is, the food represents part of the personality of these regions and Texas BBQ is just one of the food gems of Texas.

Then we got Tex-Mex. We got steaks. We got chili. The journeys of discovery regarding our meat, the difference between Mexican and Tex-Mex, or our chili is something I’ll let you discover. From our fajitas and margaritas to our world of spicy spices and our hamburgers, you can’t find a more eclectic food platter than Texas.

The Culture

Art. It’s everywhere. It’s our human attempt to make sense of the lives and cultures we create and maintain. Whatever our worlds might include, be it reading books, watching movies, listening to music, etc. one can find the face of Texas amidst the pages and images of cultural history.

Two of the more modern influential writers I can think of would be the more obvious Larry McMurtry and the other being the incendiary satirical mind of Terry Southern. I’ll highlight the latter. I was raised in Alvarado, Texas where Terry Southern was born. Now after leaving Texas, Terry carried a unique love/hate relationship with his home state and in fact rarely visited it. But you can’t escape the early influence his home played in developing his lens on life and his art. From his Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider scripts to his work on SNL to his novels The Magic Christian and Candy, Southern embodied a rich and vibrant style of writing. He’s one to be discovered if you haven’t had a taste. They, alongside Horton Foote and others, establish a great tradition of Texan writers.

In the world of music, Texas is the origin of Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, the Dixie Chicks, Beyonce, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Willie Nelson…and so on! Our great tradition of actors and filmmakers include Richard Linklater, Terrance Malick, Sissy Spacek, Owen and Luke Wilson brothers, Matthew McConaughey, Larry Hagman, Bill Paxton (“You’re stewed butt-wad”), and Sharon Tate, among others.  

Of course we have lots of other known and unknown commodities. Another example of great Texas culture is the Gallery of Great Texas Women. I was able to witness the unveiling of this gallery in Kinsolving Residence Hall at the University of Texas at Austin. It features some great morsels of Texas history and it’s this sort of pride that makes Texas a glorious place to live and work in. 

Ya’ll Come Back Now, Ya’ Hear

If you’ve never given a visit to this great state, I encourage it. There are certainly a plethora of cities across this great country and the world for that matter that are deserving and worthy of a taste. I emphasize “taste” because a visit just doesn’t suffice. You have to take every bit of your senses and explore. You have to taste. You have to see. You have to touch. You have to smell. You have to hear. This is where you really get a flavor for cities and cultures. It’s where you broaden the sense of self and the nostalgia of home, both yours and others’. You can sit down and have a steaming serving of BBQ topped off with a cold beer complete with a game of Texas Hold ’Em while listening to some country music and a Dallas Cowboys or Texas Longhorns football game. Whatever your taste, I’d say Texas has something for you.

I think there is a tenacious temerity to Texas. It’s bold and audacious. It’s fun. It’s damn hot. It’s big. It’s proud. It’s damn hot. It’s got great food. It’s got great people.  I invite you humbly when flying or passing through to take a stop at a local mom and pop shop or restaurant and begin your trek to discovering the sensory smorgasbord of Texas. Happy trails!

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