“ I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. it is a mystique closely approximating a religion. And this is true to the extent that people either passionately love Texas or passionately hate it and, as in other religions, few people dare to inspect it for fear of losing their bearings in mystery or paradox. But I think there will be little quarrel with my feelings that Texas is one thing. For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a high cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section in America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study and the passionate possession of all Texans.” ~John Steinbeck, 1962
Saturday, March 2, was Texas Independence Day. On that date in 1836, the Declaration of Independence from Mexico was signed, officially separating Mexican Texas from Mexican rule, creating The Republic of Texas. Yes, the story Michael told me about Texas being the only state that was once an independent country is really true.
Last Friday, my friend Judi and I attended an author meet and greet at our local library. Judi is from Nebraska and I’m from Iowa so we both know we have a lot to learn when it comes to Texas. We try but it’s a long process. Even after years of living and learning “Texas,” we both experience moments when complete strangers walk up to us, looks us up and down, shake their heads, and makes the loud proclamation, “You ain’t from around here, are ‘ya?”
Time flew by as we listened to the stories shared by W.F. Strong from his book, Stories From Texas. His presentation was a mixture of history class, personal memoir, and stand up comedy. He impressed us both enough we waited in line to get our very own signed copy.
Along with the quote from Mr. Steinbeck, let me share a few others that are Mr. Strong’s favorites:
- Davy Crockett: “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.” Crockett said this angrily after losing his Tennessee bid for U.S. Congress. (I think he said, “Y’all can go to hell,” but grammatical purity likely corrupted the original transcription.)
- Conrad Hilton: “There’s a vastness here, and I believe that the people who are born here breathe that vastness into their soul. They dream big dreams and think big thoughts, because there is nothing to hem them in.” Hilton launched his empire in Texas with his very first hotel in Cisco in 1919, going on to open Hiltons in Dallas, Abilene, Waco, and El Paso before expanding beyond the state.
- Larry McMurtry: “What my whole body of work says…is that Texas spent so long getting past the frontier experience because that experience is so overwhelmingly powerful. Imagine yourself as a small hopeful immigrant family, alone in the Staked Plains, with the Comanche and the Kiowa still on the loose. The power of such experience will not sift out of the descendants of that venturer in one generation and produce Middletown. Elements of that primal venturing will surely inform several generations.” McMurtry wrote this in an essay for the Texas Monthly several years ago. In more accessible language, he also famously said: “Only a rank degenerate would drive 1500 miles across Texas without eating a chicken-fried steak.”
- George W. Gush, reflecting poignantly on his years in West Texas: “Those were comfortable, carefree years. The word I’d use now is idyllic. On Friday nights, we cheered on the Bulldogs of Midland High. On Sunday mornings, we went to church. Nobody locked their doors. Years later, when I would speak about the American Dream, it was Midland I had in mind.”
Okay, y’all, on that note, I’m fixin’ to head out and pour myself some wine.