Katie’s post last week really grabbed me. She wrote about her relationship with her home state of Texas: the love, the shame, the pride, what she does and doesn’t miss. I identified so strongly with her feelings that I wanted to share, too. I won’t try to top her very poetic tribute, but I will give a different perspective on my home environment than I did a few months ago.
I’ve lived in Houston, Texas all my life. I take pride and interest in being a somewhat unique creature: both a Southern, and a big-city girl. I have tried to leave a few times but never made the leap, and part of me still really wants to. (For one thing, I feel like we should probably all leave our hometowns at some point, in the interest of personal growth.) But Houston would be hard to top: I’d want another very big, very international city, along the lines of New York City, London, Athens, San Francisco, or Amsterdam, but each of these comes with a cost of living several times that of my hometown. Plus, the miserable, unbearable, humid Houston heat is what I’m acclimated to; colder winters than ours (which would be most of them) terrify me. And all of this times-two, because Husband is also a native Houstonian, who’s never left, and he’s even older and has deeper roots.
I didn’t come to this comfort with my home naturally or without some struggle, though. In high school all I could think of was getting out. (This is a typical symptom of being in high school, I think.) I was so sure that I wanted to leave Houston, and Texas. I shopped colleges all over the country. During this time I had an interesting experience: I was in Mexico with a group of kids from all over, and had asked to borrow something from a girl not from Texas that she didn’t have on hand. I said “thanks anyway,” to which she snapped, “you don’t have to be nasty about it. I just don’t have one.” I was shocked because I really meant… thanks anyway; thanks for checking; no worries. This tiny little moment opened my eyes to the idea that maybe there was something to this “Southern manners” concept. It was just a little thing, but in my 17-year-old mind it made an impression. For various reasons I ended up going to the University of Houston, and by the time I graduated I had no thoughts of leaving.
Several years later, when I got ready to go to grad school, I shopped schools, and places to live, again. This was, if anything, an even more enlightening process, probably because I was a few years older with a fuller sense of myself and what I wanted from the world. I had done some traveling all over the country, and had decided I definitely like a Southern pace and sensibility. The Pacific Northwest and New England are lovely places to visit, but I couldn’t imagine them ever feeling like home. Plus, the cold! I was all settled on North Carolina when, oops, I got engaged (not to mention changing my degree plan) and stayed in Houston, again.
I still get frustrated. It’s literally 100 degrees outside as often as not right now, and the humidity is often over 80%. You will absolutely sweat between the house and the car. On work days, I get up to ride my bicycle before the sun comes up, so I don’t have to do it in the evenings. As a cyclist, this city can be frustrating; urban sprawl, car culture, climate, and drivers’ inexperience with cyclists conspire to make it a deathtrap. And as a mountain biker, I’m thankful for the awesome trails all over this state, but also well aware of the superior options in many, many other locations. (We have a subscription to Bike magazine, which is a constant tease. On the other hand, we can plan vacations around their annual Trails issue…) And Katie was right-on when she referenced the religion-politics axis. For those who don’t know, Houston is a blue (Dem) city in a red (Rep) state, and my politics float left of blue. There are probably friendlier places for me, idealogically.
But being aware of shortcomings doesn’t mean you can’t still feel love. If I’ve had a complicated relationship with Houston, and Texas, over the years, is it possible that makes my love more complex and deeply felt? Because I love that we can ride bikes here year-round, and wear t-shirts on Christmas morning pretty regularly. I prefer to keep snow a novelty, thanks very much (hi Katie, definitely true here too!). I love it when the Husband’s mild southern accent sneaks out, and I guess the Drive-by Truckers are one of my favorite bands because they sing about “the duality of the Southern thang.” In other words, yes, we birthed the Bushes. Sorry, world. Some wrongs have been done in the South, but I’m not sure we have the world monopoly on racism, segregation, hate, or violence – or even ignorance. Let me borrow some more Truckers lyrics: “You know racism is a worldwide problem and has been since the beginning of recorded history, and it ain’t just white and black, either. But thanks to George Wallace, it’s always a little more convenient to play it with a Southern accent.”
Unlike Katie, I haven’t left yet, although I’d still like to. If and when I do, though, I may very well end up coming back. I can’t imagine anywhere else becoming truly home. If it does, it might have to be the Carolinas or Tennessee. Like Katie, I do say y’all, and I expect I always will. I don’t wear cowboy boots but I can appreciate them on my buddy Jimmy. I adore Mexican food, and I just don’t believe I could get it in Oregon the way I can here. It may not be perfect, but this is my home, and I’m proud of it.
Filed under: musings | Tagged: personal, Texas | 5 Comments »