In March, Texas Monthly offered up a series of articles they tagged as “love letters” from Texans to their home state. My favorites were the musings on childhood experiences in a state that has a wide variety of environs.
David Dorado Romo (author of the excellent Montana-based novel, A River Runs Through It) was actually reared in El Paso, Texas. There he recalls the constant commute across the Santa Fe Street International Bridge between Mexico and his home town (originally El Paso del Norte when this area was also owned by Mexico). This natural movement back and forth across the Rio Grande for work and play helped to frame his idea of citizenship. He came to think of himself as a “fronterizo,” a man “from both sides” of the border.
Texas Monthly writer Prudence Mackintosh was at least partially inspired by her upbringing in Texarkana when she wrote “The Soul of East Texas” back in 1989 but in the current article she was inspired by another author’s contention that East Texas folks were by nature less adventurous. She leapt to the defense of her birthplace, noting that other Texas kids missed out on sandy-bottomed swimming holes and more than enough trees for a good game of Swiss Family Robinson. “My mud pies were baked with mulberries or wild cherries. Chinaberries were ammunition. . . . Magnolia trees offered totally enclosed play spaces [and] sturdy climbing limbs.”
John Phillip Santos (National Book Award finalist for his excellent generational memoir, Places Left Unfinished the Time of Creation) remembered his years growing up in San Antonio. Vivid in his memory were the evenings his parents drove the family down to the Alamo to hear Bongo Joe’s street African griot beat, “slow-grooving, rock-steady batucadas on two battered oil drums.” His early experiences like this one left him with an indelible impression of San Antonio as a place “where everyone, from everywhere in the world could conjure their stories, their poetry, their rhythms, their music.”
Journalist Anne Dingus (author of The Truth About Texas) had indelible memories of growing up in Pampa, Texas, in the Panhandle, where the weather was known for its lack of rain and its presence of wind and sandstorms. She recalls the joy of the simple life – catching “tiny horny toads the size of a man’s thumbnail” and caging them in matchboxes until some adult “took pity on them and set them free.” She once had a pet horny toad until “one day he was dispatched by his own dinner of red ants.” Another pet was a tarantula named Cowboy – “so named for his bowlegged stance. He occasionally broke free of his pickle jar and terrorized my mother’s bridge club.”
Growing up in both Ft. Worth, Texas, and in the Midland-Big Spring area, I most related to Dingus’ story. For a long while, I did not think of my experience as being particularly Texan. Our family hung out at the ball fields since my dad was a slugger on a semi-pro ball team. However, even a large city like Ft. Worth had a western flair. It seemed that everyone owned a horse or had a cousin who did, and everyone sang along to Hank Williams’ songs. Of course, my West Texas experience was somewhat similar to that of Anne Dingus – the sand, wind, horny toads, tarantulas – and snakes. You KNEW you were in a western state when you carried the kitchen garbage out to the metal trash can in the alley – and found a 5-foot rattle snake sunning himself on the lid!
As I grew to adulthood, I became less-enamored with Texas (criticisms I have often shared in my blogs). I was well into my “mature” years before I finally realized that my upbringing had a great deal to do with the person I became. Looking back on childhood, I likewise have come to value those days of bucolic pleasures. There is something good that happens inside a kid when they have room to roam and explore and they can experience simple joy.
— Jonnie Martin