Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Story of Texas

The concept of Texas has come up a lot lately, much in part to Lahikmajoe’s Non-Tea Blog. I have to say that I am most impressed with @lucysfootball and her take on the Texas culture and what outsiders may think of it. Let me take a moment to say that Lucy’s Football Blog slant on this topic is actually way funnier than mine, so now is your chance to bail.

Oh... you are still here. Great.

I have chosen to take this opportunity to consider what being a Texan means to me. You see, my family is perhaps one of the last of the stereotypical Texans. Despite my sarcastic and liberal demeanor, I am a direct link to rural Texas and what it means to be a real cowboy.

I grew up spending a lot of time out in the country with my grandmother. My grandmother was a tough woman. She grew vegetables in her garden, and pickled her own beets and cucumbers. Her house had no central air or heat and the television only got about three channels and that was on a good day. The phone was a party line. You knew by the pattern of rings if the call was yours. If you picked it up and there was someone talking, you were supposed to put the handset down quietly. Sometimes I would take a minute or two to listen in, but always found the conversation excruciatingly boring.

When “Nan-Mamma,” as we called her, needed to do laundry or pick up supplies, we went to 'into town' (population 6,000) to the laundromat and the “Dixie Winn.” I don’t think that particular brand of grocery store is still around, but if it were, the proper name of it would be pronounced, “Winn Dixie.” You wouldn’t dare tell that to my grandmother. That woman had a sharp tongue and a quick hand. The best plan was always to lay low. 

My mother currently works part-time in the office of a cattle auction. The people in that office love to make fun of the city folk who come in and do silly things. This makes it extremely fun to embarrass my mother when visiting her at work. I usually have someone ask for her to come out and speak with me about “buying the cow outside with the brown eyes.” It is like our code actually.

My dad was once a farmer/rancher. The farming part grew hay for the cattle. I remember seeing the hay balers and bright green John Deere tractors and combines, sitting powerfully still under the corrugated metal roof of the shed. At the time, I was impressed at their size as I had metal drawf-sized counter parts as toys at home. As an adult, I am astounded by the scope of the mechanical what-not that had to be properly greased and maintained. My dad has a knack for keeping things working. I have a AAA card.

My dad took me with him to the auction barn on the days he sold or bought cattle. I would play quietly with whatever toys I had brought along as he made his bids or watched his cows being sold. I distinctly remember the aggressive chant of the auctioneer, the sound of the cattle, and the faint smell of manure in the background. It is the same auction my mother works at today. Nothing has changed much, expect that my adult eyes see it as smaller than I remember.

My dad always drove a white Ford truck. When one gave out he bought another one just like it… one white Ford pickup after the other. I remember riding in the back of those trucks as my dad called 'the cow out to feed.' I asked him once if I could have a cow. He gave one each to both my brother and me. Although, I suspect he picked them out at random. It is just as well as I couldn’t tell one cow from the other anyway.

My parents had a double freezer and when we needed meat, they would “take a cow to slaughter.” We had every part of cow in that freezer. My dad would scramble the brains with eggs, telling my brother and I that it would make us smarter. I don’t know how eating cow brain could make you any smarter. Even if eating the brain could somehow transfer the brain of a cow into yours, the only skill you would gain is how to lick a block of salt and chew your cud. It just doesn’t pencil out.

I remember trips to the feed store. Of course, my memory is that of a young child. I remember the earthy, malty smell of the feed, but mainly I remember the bubble gum machine. There were two sections to the machine, and each took a penny.  One section contained tiny little square pieces of candy-coated gum, while the other had small round colorful balls. It was always a dilemma because the ball section only pushed out one piece of gum. The other section, if you turned the handle just right, would push out two or three. So, according to my childhood memories, the important takeaway from this is that Texas has gum. Don’t let them tell you any different.

My dad doesn’t have a ranch anymore. My parents own their own rental apartments now, and have long since sold their land in the country. My dad still drives a truck, but instead of baling wire for hay, the truck bed is cluttered with paint cans and sections of cabinet for apartment upkeep. He wears a cowboy hat, but only outside in the sun, because hats for real cowboys are for function, not for nightclubs. He doesn’t own a pair of dress shoes or sneakers. Instead, he has two pairs of boots, one pair for everyday, and one for Sunday.

So, that is my story of Texas. And now, with great pride, I would like you all to meet a real cowboy:

Me and my Dad. 


  1. I would like to say something witty and clever, but to do so would only poke fun at your Texas life, which was not a lot different than my own small town life. And that would be the wrong thing to do.
    I was born in Ellensburg, Washington. My parents were born in that same town. I grew up with grandparents, parents, and cousins who got "gussied up" on Saturday nights and hit the local Honkey Tonk for dancing and a beer or two. All these people were ranchers, farmers or real rodeo cowboys. My Uncle George the Rodeo Clown; his son Gig, a purple heart recipient who wears an Red White & Blue eye patch over an empty eye-socket. That brown eye was removed by a bull in the Ellensburg rodeo one September. My Uncle Sonny, the sheep rancher. All hard working, all quiet, strong, salt of the earth folk.
    I grew up with a dad who worshiped his cowboy uncles and a mother who tolerated that hero worship. Still, there were times when I am sure Mom wished Dad's family had a safer pastime; she still shudders when she tells of my two adult cousins, Steve and Jerry taking me (a two year old me) into the stalls behind the rodeo chutes. Mom nearly had a heart attack when she saw me perched upon the then World Champion brahma bull named "Ott". Dad was taking a picture. I am certain my mothers frantic screams are the reason Dad cut Ott's head off in that photo; but I love looking at it anyway.
    We had chicken and macaroni on Sunday's at Gramma's. She took us "in to town" for donuts at the local diner. We would wash up in the "Christian Ladies Reading Room" next door prior to that coveted donut. These routines didn't stop even after we moved to "the big city" 34 miles to the South. Yakima was were the folks in Ellensburg went when the local JC Penny didn't have what they needed. Otherwise, they stayed in town, growing gardens, raising livestock, helping each other out.
    Texas sounds like a great place to grow up. Texas sounds a lot like home to me.

  2. You know, Debihen, I guess the cowboy culture is a lot more wide-spread than we give it credit for.

  3. Oh, my. You have described my childhood, but it was my grandpa, not my father, who was the farmer. He wore overalls during the week and slacks and a shirt with pearlized snaps to church on Sunday. My brothers and I rode in the bed of his pickup truck over dirt roads to the pasture to feed the cows with him. I remember feeling so sorry for the heifers that got prodded and poked as they were brought into the ring at the sale barn. I sat on the fence of the pigpen and scratched the pig's back with a stick. There was only ever one at a time, and I learned not to get attached to them after the first one. I collected eggs from the barn. My grandparents didn't have plumbing until I was thirteen.

  4. Your grandmother sounds a lot like mine, except she has never said an unkind thing about anyone. And she was great at killing rattsnakes in the garden or the bar ditch. Grandaddy was a dryland cotton farmer. The farm was about two hours south of Lubbock near the community of Kalgary, which consisted of the cotton gin and the gas station. The gas station was run by Jewell and her husband and carried a few groceries. Grandmother would always treat me to a grape Nehi if we stopped there for groceries. I would follow Grandaddy down to the cow lot to feed the cows, and go down to the garden in the pasture to weed and collect the vegetables with Grandmother. She and I would gather wildflowers down by the creek. Grandaddy would take me fishing for perch on White River Lake. I, too, remember the tractors and big combines. Sounds like we come from some good stock.

  5. First of all, I like the picture. Over the last 20 years, my wife has shown me a lot of Texas and Oklahoma. Small towns in particular. I understand the incredible amount of work and knowledge that goes into living 200 miles from.a Home Depot.
    She had an Aunt who lived on a small farm that had no well. They had to go 5 miles to pick up water for cooking and cleaning. To me that sounds like a hard life, but it was just life to them.
    I admire anyone who could raise a family in those kind of conditions.
    And I can say,looking at that.picture, I see a for real,honest to God, cowboy there.

  6. Handflapper: OMG! My Aunt Ethel still had an OUTHOUSE! I thought it was so cool, to put ashes over your own poop. I was a kid, though. I like running water now.

  7. John Brown... I remember my Aunt telling me how she finally got an electric wringer for her wash. Two wheels, once turned by hand, to push the water out of clothes. She got her hand caught in there and lost bit of skin. That wringer was still in use when I would visit. It is amazing how far we have come.

  8. I love your story! And I'll write you a proper comment when I get to my real computer keyboard, as this phone is fighting me for every syllable. BRB.

  9. Ok, I'm back. Even though I was born in the city of Stockholm (which to be fair, is not that big a city. What is it? 1.5 million or something), I was never much of a city slicker. We spent most of the summers at my grandparents, and they had been farmers all their lives. So I'm also accustomed to live stock, tractors, fields of wheat and potatoes and men who spit. And only two channels on the telly. That's (count'em) TWO channels! Granted, my granddad had quit farming and gone into local politics, but most of the people in their village were proper farmers (and a lot still are today).

    But I'll stop now before this blog post turn into that Monty Python sketch where they sit around comparing their childhoods ("We lived under a rock at the bottom of a lake, and each morning our dad used to beat us to death - IF WE WERE LUCKY! - and send us off to work. At night we got to eat one handful of cold POISONOUS gravel and then went to bed 1 hour AFTER we had to get up."). Because who would believe us?

    My point was that we all seem to be just one (or at the most two) generations away from the agricultural society. We're more or less the same people, probably got similar values and are just 'gadgeted up'. Which makes me both proud and worried at the same time.

    Also, nowadays we put ground up BARK over the poop in the outhouse, not ashes. We're not ANIMALS!

  10. That wasn't the tirade you promised earlier.

    Instead it's a very heartfelt and touching post. Enjoyed it immensely.

  11. This was a nice post. And thanks for the inside scoop. If I ever visit Texas, I'll arrive by horse 'cause I look pretty good in a cowboy hat. :-)

  12. This is so beautifully written. You brought many memories back to me. I can smell the malt of the feed store. I had forgotten it. Thank you.

  13. My great grandma Buena had a hand wringer on her "electric washtub". She cooked on a wood burning stove until the day she died. While all I remember as a kid is how unbearably hot is always was in her kitchen, as an adult I am thrilled to think that I witnessed these "old ways" of doing household chores. Thankfully, everyone had indoor plumbing...and outhouse is and experience I reserve for camping or when no other choice is offered.

  14. I absolutely loved this post-it reminded me of visiting my grandmother's when I was small. My mom once told me that after she married my dad and he took her home to meet the family, she was horrified to discover they had a dirt floor. By the time I came along they had a real floor and bathroom. I think I need to go call my dad now. I also think I need to find a way to get home for a visit.

  15. That all sounds so familiar - although I grew up in Chicago and the closest I got to farming was 2 weeks in the summer with my aunt and uncle in Indiana. But the smells and sights are not much different.

  16. I didn't have anything to do with farming, but my son worked his way through college (in part) working on a dairy farm. So I got to know how much work it was, but from my progeny instead of my parent.

    This is a great post. Also, I nominated you for president over at lucysfootball. I thought you should know.

  17. PS: I love that pic of you and your dad. It's awesome.

  18. I like the sound of Texas. It sounds earthy and immaterialistic. I also like the idea of wearing a real cowboy hat for real cowboy stuff. This makes me want to buy a cow.

  19. Yes, except for the "men-type" places- feed store, tractor dealer, etc the hat came OFF when you came in the door. Just simple manners!
    and much needed today!
    Thanks for bringing back memories.

  20. In all my years in and around Texas, I never once met a real cowboy. I'm glad to see that they're alive and kicking, even in the major metropolitan areas.

  21. Very well. I am glad you have taken your time to write this much here. Graphic tees are one of my favorite type. They seem to have a lot of options in them when it comes to choose. It doesn't really matter if its about color or design.