City Girl, Country Girl--Texas Girl
Like many Texas women before me, I have led a double life since birth. I am as comfortable around cow pastures as I am in the concrete jungle of a big city; equally at home in the hometown BBQ sandwich joint as I am in the Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus. I used to think that this dual life was unique to my family, but I discovered rather quickly that it is not—in fact, many women I know have experienced this phenomenon to an even greater degree than I have. It has nothing to do with money or social status, or even location—I know that there are generations of women outside of Texas who share this duality. But apparently there’s something that sets us apart somehow—an undefinable quality that instantly marks us, for better or for worse, as Texas women.
Perhaps the Texas mystique rose from the early American and European settlers in the Mexican territory known as Tejas. Most were men, but a few brave women left polite society behind and came along to start a new life in a brutally harsh environment. Those who stayed—and survived—did their best to instill a sense of gentility and civilization into their rough new world. They found themselves living and working alongside other women—Mexican citizens who’d also left their towns and cities to settle the wilderness, African slaves accompanying their American owners, and Native Americans pushed further and further away from their tribal territories. These women endured Texas weather, wars, and deprivation—often running farms and ranches while the men were off fighting—and still managed to bring their cultures and heritage to life in what became first the Republic, and then the State of Texas.
With that background, Texas women became adept at handling any and all situations with strength, class, dignity, and in many cases, a wicked sense of style. My paternal grandmother and her sister could still, in their eighties, recite the pieces—with the accompanying gestures and poses—they’d learned during their “deportment and declamation” lessons in the small Texas town near the family homestead, where they spent the rest of their time working hard in the kitchen and the garden and studying to become schoolteachers and, in my grandmother’s case, the bookkeeper for her and her husband’s feed and seed store. My maternal grandmother became a beautician after high school and spent her career on her feet doing hair (by the way, that's pronounced "hay-ur") until she retired at age 75, free to spend her days speed-grooming three acres of lawn like Mr. Toad on her riding mower and driving into Longview to update her colorful, stylish wardrobe.
Then there’s my mother, who more than once found herself slaughtering a snake in our yard with the nearest available implement. Once it was a big black snake that she decapitated with a shovel, spattering her new Jantzen shorts outfit with blood and making us fashionably late for a country club pool party; another time she beat a coral snake to death in our driveway with a bamboo fishing pole. It never occurred to me that murdering reptiles in any way conflicted with Mom’s other activities, including serving as a one-woman alumnae Panhellenic for local girls needing sorority recommendations, spearheading the annual spaghetti dinner for the school booster club, or leading the fundraising efforts for a children’s shelter as head of the county child welfare board. Whatever needed doing, Mom did it—and looked good doing it.
And so I spent my childhood “helping” my grandparents harvest their vegetable crops, watching my grandfather milk his dairy herd, and romping around the warehouse of the feed and seed store. That existence melded nicely with the evenings spent at piano concerts and local college musicals, the frequent shopping trips to Shreveport and Dallas, and the hours spent on a stool beside my grandmother’s salon station, watching her transform her patrons into beautiful, well-coiffed ladies for church on Sunday. I learned that doing what needs to be done means getting your hands dirty sometimes, but that’s why God gave us soap—so we could clean up afterwards and be the stylish, sophisticated belle of the ball. At a time when the rest of the world hadn’t quite figured this out yet, I learned that girls could pretty much do anything boys could do, and that the quote attributed to über-Texas woman Ann Richards is true: “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only she did it backwards and in heels.”
Most of all, I learned to be comfortable wherever I happened to be—in a pasture, at the symphony, in our small town square or in the state capitol building. The country girl side of me was able to discern what needed to be done in many situations, and to step in and get started doing it, while the city girl in me made sure that the most mundane tasks were done with polish and style. And I grew up surrounded by girls who’d learned the same lessons, regardless of whether they’d been brought up in the country or the city, creating a network of respect, support, and understanding for us all. It’s a wonderful legacy, this Texas thing--I'm lucky to be a Texas girl.